By Michael Howell
The Bitterroot Natural Resource Recovery Committee, which has crafted a draft natural resources development policy for the county that is currently being edited by the Ravalli County Commissioners for possible adoption, held a community meeting on Tuesday, September 18 at the Hamilton Eagles Lodge entitled “Fired Up, Burned Up!” The focus was on what most of the participants believe is the mismanagement of our national forest land leading to catastrophic wildfires.
The meeting was more of a Republican political rally than an analysis of actual forest management policies and practices. Nancy Ballance, Republican candidate for the state legislature and spokesperson for the committee, introduced the speakers which included Republican Commissioners Suzy Foss and Jeff Burrows, and Republican candidate for the State Senate, Fred Thomas.
Commission Chairman Suzy Foss told the 80-plus crowd that the latest forest fires are “a political issue that starts in Washington D.C.” She said that local Forest Service personnel should not be blamed for bad political decisions in Washington.
“The local employees are working hard and suffering like the rest of us,” she said. She urged people to ignore the false rumors about current mismanagement of the fires. She said we couldn’t find a better team to fight these fires. She urged people to focus their anger and their energy on the politics instead.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows also had high praise for the local firefighters. He said the agencies, federal, state and local, were doing a good job on the ground and keeping the community informed.
“We know where the fire is and we know what it is doing.”
But he called the smoke that has filled the valley “vicious” and even hazardous and said that national policies were at fault. He said our current situation accentuates the need to “coordinate” with the federal agencies on forest management. He said adoption of our own Natural Resource Development Policy was required to coordinate effectively with the federal agencies involved.
“We have to tell them how we are going to handle the natural resources in our valley,” said Burrows.
Ballance spoke at greater length about the coordination process. She said it was not the case that the county can dictate to the Forest Service how to manage the forest, but the county does have the right to an equal place at the table with the federal agencies if they have a policy in place.
“It didn’t used to be like this,” said Fred Thomas. “The forests are unhealthy. Things are just out of control.” He, too, agreed that it was a political issue. He said the coordination process makes sense and elections matter.
“You’ve got to elect the right people to get the right policies in place,” said Thomas, and then he told everyone who to vote for in each individual race. They were all Republicans, of course.