More on forest power plays


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Bob Decker, former head of the Montana Wilderness Association, has edgy remarks about wilderness politics these days ...

Decker ran the statewide wilderness group for 13 years, then stepped down in 2005 when the group's board of directors wanted a change. He'd gotten crossways with Montana's Congressional delegation -- the only path for wilderness designation. As the Helena Independent-Record reported, he was seen as "too confrontational." He isn't fond of collaborative experiments like the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership (covered in a colorful blog post -- "A farmer's wilderness deal" -- as well as in my story). He says they're a result of "the institutionalization of wilderness advocacy" by groups he calls "Wilderness LLC" (limited liability corporations). They present deals to the public instead of wilderness values, and they're interested in "money, power and the quest for consensus, instead of straight-on advocacy for protection of an area."

In the old days, the West's members of Congress -- like Montana Sen. Mike Metcalf and Idaho Sen. Frank Church -- took the initiative proposing big wilderness designations, and wilderness issues figured prominently in election campaigns, Decker points out. Now "we have no expectation that our Congressional delegation will lead us to a solution. Now solutions have to be resolved (by interest groups) and Congress just gets these packaged agreements."

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.