Forest Service shuts down 'three old geezers'

by Ray Ring and Carlotta Grandstaff

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.

But when Brandborg tried to attend a forest press conference in Hamilton last Sept. 22, he found his way blocked by an armed, flak-vested law-enforcement officer.

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."

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