How the West was destroyed

  • Bud Moore at his portable sawmill

    John McCarthy
 

The Lochsa Story: Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains

Bud Moore. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Box 2399, Missoula, MT 59806, 1996. $20, paper. Illustrated.


Many boys grow up dreaming of becoming a mountain man, to hunt, fish and trap in a wild country. Bud Moore lived the dream.

As a boy in the 1920s, he saw the last of the trappers laden with furs trudge past his door at the edge of the wilderness between Montana and Idaho. He grew up to follow his heroes into one of the wildest places left in America.

Moore worked in the woods as a trapper, sheepherder, sawyer, cabin builder, millwright, smoke chaser, fire lookout, trail builder, district ranger and chief of fire management and air operations for the U.S Forest Service, Northern Region. Now, at 78, he has established himself as an author and historian.

It took awhile. Bud Moore's book, The Lochsa Story: Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains, is the result of almost two decades of research, writing and searching for a publisher. The book is one part local history, one part analysis of land management policy and one part memoir, filled with affection for the people and the land.

That land is the Lochsa (LOCK-saw) country of the upper Clearwater in north-central Idaho. It's so remote, a place where steep canyons prevented highway construction until 1962, that it's still 65 miles between gas stations. Moore's first years were spent on the Montana side of the mountains, at the family homestead on the Lolo Fork of the Bitterroot River, where mountain men would stop for a taste of his mother's cooking and his father's moonshine.

"I thought in those days and still think that the early day mountain men of the Bitterroots were some of the greatest people on earth," Moore says of his youthful models. "As soon as I grew up big enough to get over the windfalls and go - well - that's what I did. I went over into the Lochsa country."

As a teenager, Moore ran an 80-mile, winter trap line; during summers he worked for the Forest Service. After a stint in the Marines during World War II, he worked his way up to Powell district ranger on the Clearwater National Forest. He was one of the last district rangers whose skills came from the ground; his formal schooling had ended in eighth grade.

Moore began to collect stories - the lore of the Lochsa, as he puts it - in the 1940s. He found original trappers and rangers to interview in the 1960s and 1970s, and wrote the first draft of his book almost 20 years ago.

He writes about the last grizzlies, gone from the Selway-Lochsa in the 1940s; the first smoke jumpers - in Martin Creek off the Selway on July 12, 1940 - and the first and only paved road to connect central Idaho and Montana, the Lewis and Clark Highway, which opened in 1962.

The irony is that a child of the Lochsa should have helped destroy it as an employee of the Forest Service. But Moore is straightforward about his support for the logging of a wilderness. Moore says an outbreak of spruce bark beetles in the 1950s unleashed the bulldozers and chainsaws into the Lochsa, to forever change its landscape. He writes, "None of us had the wisdom to foresee the consequences of the program we devised. We had no Aldo Leopolds to give us advice. That we were moving too fast and with too little knowledge seemed obvious, but the bugs wouldn't wait and we couldn't either."

Moore acknowledges that clearcuts and their damage to streams and land throughout the national forests in the next decades resulted in a loss of public trust, a loss not yet regained.

"Sometimes the land was hurt by loggers and rangers alike because we did not understand the consequences of our acts. Surely the people of America can forgive those scars on the earth. But it is not easy to forgive actions defiling the land when we all knew better."

By 1967, the grizzly bear, moose and elk were gone - replaced by cows, clearcuts and skid trails. "It seemed to me that such logging severed all ties with the natural history of the land and heralded a new era of domination by humans and machines," he says.

Today, conflicts between wilderness and roadbuilding, wildlife and logging continue. In Moore's old ranger district, the Powell, a 17 million board-feet logging project has been approved in White Sand Creek, the largest source of clean water to the Lochsa. The sale - on the north fringe of the Selway-Bitterroot, in the remaining roadless country surrounding Elk Summit - is on hold pending a study of the steelhead. Ten appeals were filed by individuals, conservation groups and Indian tribes. All failed.

Moore's advice for today? When in doubt, go slow. "Mistakes were caused by the illusion we knew more than we did."

John McCarthy works for the Idaho Conservation League and writes from Boise.

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