Enviro infighting on forest deal


When I researched my new High Country News story on bold experiments emerging in national forests, I talked to a bunch of people whom I couldn't fit into the magazine story. That's a drawback of magazines -- the pages are not infinite the way the Web is.

So I'm going to use my blog to publish additional material related to the story.

Today, here are summations of the positions of two more environmentalists who don't like the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership -- the Montana experment in which the timber industry cut a deal with three sizable green groups (National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Montana Wilderness Association).

Montana Sen. Jon Tester says he'll hold a press conference Friday to announce how he's tuned the deal and wrapped it into proposed legislation that would designate new wilderness while supporting timber jobs and off-road driving in Montana. Forest restoration -- fixing mistakes of the past -- is also a primary goal.

These two environmentalists run small groups that challenge timber sales with appeals and lawsuits (often winning). They say it's a bad deal in many ways ...

Michael Garrity, head of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, based in Helena: Garrity is a fifth-generation Montanan who has a bachelor's degree in economics and studied natural-resource economics in grad school at the University of Utah (he didn't complete his Ph.D.). He says the best strategy for forest management is NREPA (the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act), which has been introduced in Congress regularly since 1993. NREPA would essentially designate wilderness to protect the Clinton administration's "roadless rule" areas in the Northern Rockies -- 24 million acres -- and manage connecting corridors for wildlife. NREPA has a lot of support in Congress, but almost no support in the Northern Rockies delegations -- so there's little chance Congress will pass it. Some of Garrity's thinking has to do with economics: "The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest loses $1,400 per acre on average on commercial timber sales (when its overhead is factored in)," he says. "The forest is a critical corridor connecting the Yellowstone and Glacier national park ecosystems. NREPA would spend $135 million in restoration work, creating 2,100 jobs over 10 years, paid for by not logging roadless areas. We agree there are restoration needs, we just disagree about how to go about it."

Sara Jane Johnson, head of Native Ecosystems Research, based near Bozeman: Johnson grew up in rural South Dakota, earned a Ph.D. in biology from Montana State University and worked as a Forest Service biologist for 14 years (1974 to 1988). Now she runs a campground in Southwest Montana. She founded Native Ecosystems Council in 1992 -- a one-person group (her) with a board of directors. "The species of concern on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest include cavity-nesting birds (such as) woodpeckers, swallows, nuthatches," she says. "The clearcutting of lodgepole pines has had tremendous impact. All these areas are black holes for these species for a hundred years (after clear-cutting). Goshawks require 3,000 to 4,00 acres of older forest to raise the young in one nest -- they're forest hunters, they need forest prey. … People who want to save wilderness -- that's for people to go hiking and for aesthetics, not for wildlife. I think the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership is outrageous -- the last thing we need is more logging and more roads. If you have to have a job that destroys the environment, maybe you should get a different job."

I'll publish more supplemental material -- including more support for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership deal -- on my blog soon.


About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.