Eighty-year-old retiree Stewart Brandborg wouldn’t appear threatening to most people in his hometown, Hamilton. Brandborg’s father, Guy, ran the Bitterroot National Forest, headquartered in the town, from 1935 to 1955. Brandborg’s own career included stints with the Forest Service and national conservation groups.
Brandborg tried to attend a forest press conference in Hamilton
last Sept. 22, he found his way blocked by an armed, flak-vested
The unusual face-off seemed to
validate concerns that the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act
will undermine public involvement in agency decisions (HCN,
12/8/03: Forest Protection on the Honor System). The current forest
supervisor, Dave Bull, held the press conference to release an
environmental impact statement for a thinning project, the first
logging in the Northern Rockies authorized by the act.
Some residents and local officials who support the agency’s
plan to log about 6,500 acres were invited to the press conference.
But guards prevented two other environmentalists from attending.
All three of the excluded are leaders of the Friends of the
Bitterroot. The group proposes logging only 1,600 acres, and says
that 98 percent of the 10,000 comments on the EIS backed its plan.
Bull later apologized for excluding the critics. A forest
public-affairs officer told the Missoulian
newspaper, "We wanted to focus on the project’s merits."
The environmentalists are now pressing a federal lawsuit
against Bull and the Bitterroot National Forest, claiming their
civil rights were violated. The show of hostility tromped on "all
the precepts of good government," Brandborg says. "We were three
old geezers with pieces of paper and pencils."