By Michael Howell
Around fifty people attended a meeting with the County Commissioners on December 1, to address concerns about natural resource management on the National Forests. Introducing themselves as the Natural Resource Recovery Committee leaders of th
e committee, Mark Shepherd, Bill Grasser and Robin Conner expressed their hope that the commissioners could use the “coordination” powers of local government to recreate a timber industry in the valley.
Shepherd, a father of three living in Darby told the commissioners that the forest has been mismanaged for a number of years. He said without logging people were leaving the valley to find work.
“I’d rather stay here and figure out a way to take our forest back and manage our natural resources,” said Shepherd.
Bill Grasser, owner of Lost Trail Ski Area, said that he was “extremely concerned about the death of Darby.” He said that he counted 30 empty buildings on the Darby area on his way to the meeting, most of which represent timber related businesses that are now out of business. He bemoaned the fact that not one of the four large sawmills that were active in the valley when he arrived in 1967 is still operating.
“The forest is going nuts,” said Grasser, “It is overgrown and the only thing keeping it under control is the fires. But I think we can do a better job.” He said he hoped the commissioners would get involved and help get the Forest Service back into forest management.
“It’s our forest,” said Grasser, “It doesn’t belong to the Forest Service. It belongs to us. He said he was hopeful that a timber industry could be recreated in the valley.
Robin Conner, of R&R Conner Aviation a helicopter logging business, said that her company was currently working out of state because there was no work to be had in the state of Montana. She said the issue of natural resource development went beyond logging, however. She said that she had been to coordination training and was ready to step out and help the commissioners in the hard work ahead to revive a natural resource based economy. She said the citizen’s committee was interested in “getting our voice back and protecting our heritage.”
Close to half the people present spoke, mainly about the loss of the timber industry and how it has affected the local economy. All of them expressed hope that the commissioners would use their power to coordinate with the Forest Service and possibly turn things around.
“I hear what you’re saying,” said Commissioner Kanenwisher, “I do get it.” He said the commission had a lot of work ahead of it.
“It’ll take some time. We’ll do as much as we can, you may not see it all because that’s the nature of the thing. But we are committed.
Commission Chairman J. R. Iman said, “The coordination process may be one way we can work at this, but it’s at the least challenging and at the most pioneering. We can’t do it without help. In some cases it may exceed the ability of county government, but we can at least be an impetus to make it work.”