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Criticisms of Farm Bill deal valid

By Larry Campbell, Darby, and Stewart Brandborg, Hamilton

Two of the select participants in Governor Bullock’s unannounced, closed meetings to nominate about 5 million acres of Montana’s national public forest for “streamlined” Farm Bill logging have recently published op-eds trying to justify Bullock’s then-secret process as well as to excoriate critics. Bruce Farling of Trout Unlimited calls the critics of this backroom deal “pretend” organizations which “disdain working with people who differ with them” and “have filed lawsuits for years” then “retired to backrooms cutting settlements”. Julia Altemus with the Montana Wood Products Association says, “It is rather disingenuous for these people to cry foul now because they were not consulted. They sealed their own fate long ago by choosing the path of obstruction rather than construction.”

Friends of the Bitterroot, one of the critics, is a 25 year old grassroots conservation organization with over 300 Montana members and no paid staff. We believe passionately in genuine conservation, scientific and lawful forest management and meaningful democratic process. For these reasons we are critics of the Farm Bill forestry provisions and the process used by Governor Bullock.

Contrary to the rhetoric aimed at discrediting the critics heard from timber industry representatives and the select club of conservation collaborators who are routinely used to green-wash politically mandated, science-lite logging, we have worked for years on the Ravalli County Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) and the Bitterroot Restoration Committee, sitting down with “traditional adversaries”. I will say that in 2002 we “retired to backrooms [in the courthouse], cutting settlement deals” when we agreed to drop a lawsuit in a court ordered mediation with the Forest Service and timber industry which included 60 million board feet of timber – about equal to the previous 6 years of logging on the Bitterroot – in exchange for protection of roadless areas and the most sensitive fisheries. We have not appealed or litigated a timber sale in eight years, a fact unacknowledged let alone appreciated by our “traditional” as well as our new adversaries.

FOB is critical of Farm Bill “streamlined” logging because it ignores the best available science starting with its very premise of “treating” a beetle epidemic with logging; it severely limits any look at impacts before leaping into large timber sales and it removes meaningful public involvement in planning public land management. The Bill allows timber sales up to 3000 acres to be logged using a CE environmental analysis shortcut. As Julia Altemus points out, “Categorical exclusion [CE] applies to actions that “do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment.” A nearly 5 square mile logging project is hardly insignificant, except possibly to a voracious timber beast. The 1600 such projects allowed within Bullock’s chosen 5 million acres of Montana add up to enormous significance. Opportunity to recognize and correct procedural errors or excessive impacts is eliminated. The only avenue left of the long-term public stake in protecting public land will be litigation, which we have tried to avoid.

We are not “cry[ing] foul now because they [we] were not consulted”, Ms. Altemus. Our motives are not that we want the titillation of personal power or any monetary profit. We are critical because the deal and the process to get it are terribly undemocratic and very damaging to genuine conservation interests, which are not being represented by the so-called conservation collaborators.

It is not surprising Julia Altemus is tickled pink by the deal. The timber industry’s mission is to maximize profits, in this case off of public timber and taxpayer subsidies. However, the carefully selected supposed-conservation collaborators betray their mission, their members and the public at large, not to mention fish and wildlife. But then, their top-heavy, highly staffed organizations are dependent on corporate foundation largesse. Now that Bruce Farling insures T.U. stands for Timber Unlimited, if it stands for anything, their members should revisit their mission statement.

 

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