by Michael Garrity, Opinion, Guest Column
The Missoulian’s Sept. 13 editorial stumbled by calling on Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to further weaken his already bad Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in an effort to draw support from Montana’s sole Congressman, Republican Steve Daines. The trade-offs suggested by the Missoulian are unworkable policy and contrary to the long history of wilderness legislation championed by true wilderness advocates such as Montana’s former Sen. Lee Metcalf.
The Missoulian urged Tester to amend his bill to agree with former Rep. Denny Rehberg’s idea that wilderness will not be designated until the mandated logging in the bill is complete. What the Missoulian seems to have forgotten is that at its first hearing Tester asked if the Montana Wilderness Association and its corporate “timber partners” would support dropping the mandated logging provision of the bill. They said they wouldn’t support any change to the mandated logging to which the administration, most environmental groups, and many senators objected as setting a very bad policy precedent. Consequently, the bill never even made it out of committee.
The Missoulian also ignores the fact that Tester’s mandated logging would cost taxpayers more than $140 million since almost all Forest Service logging in Montana loses money. Given that the price of timber is recovering fine on its own, there is no reason that taxpayers should allow Tester’s effort to spend millions more of taxpayer dollars on welfare for timber corporations than they already do.
The Missoulian neglected to mention the environmental costs of Tester’s mandated logging of 100,000 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai national forests. In Montana, the main cause of declining lynx numbers is logging. In the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, with its lodgepole pine forests, most of the logging is clearcutting. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has successfully stopped clearcut projects because clearcutting and lynx don’t mix. Lynx mainly eat showshoe hares and when a forest is clearcut, or even thinned, the Forest Service’s own research shows that the hares leave and the lynx do too.
The Kootenai National Forest is home to the most endangered population of grizzly bears in the nation as well as federally-designated lynx critical habitat. The grim reality is that grizzly bear numbers in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem continue to decline every year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the Cabinet-Yaak population is “in danger of extinction” due in part to the habitat alteration and human intrusion related to the cumulative impacts of timber harvest and its associated road construction. Most grizzly bears are killed near roads and more mandated logging inevitably means more logging roads and more dead grizzly bears.
We see the choice as a simple one. Following the Missoulian’s recommendation means taxpayers will be required to pay for more corporate welfare for the timber industry so they can clearcut more lynx habitat and build more logging roads. Ultimately, that will lead to fewer lynx and the extinction of grizzly bears in Cabinet-Yack ecosystem. Alternatively, we could acknowledge that the timber industry is already getting enough corporate welfare and instead focus limited funds and personnel on recovering lynx and grizzly bears populations so they can eventually be removed from the endangered species list.
If the Missoulian really wants to make a positive suggestion, it should question why the Forest Service continues to be a serial law breaker while trying to “get out the cut” for the timber industry. They don’t lose court cases because they’re frivolous, they lose because the agency doesn’t follow the law. The Missoulian might also question why Congress, which is cutting funding for food stamps and Head Start, refuses its constitutional duty to oversee the agency’s money-losing practices. It would make a lot more sense than advocating even more subsidies for the timber industry, more clearcutting, and more money for an already-bloated Forest Service timber budget of $4 billion annually.
The Missoulian might also find it highly instructive to do an in-depth analysis of Daines’ House Resolution 1526, the so-called “Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.” If the Missoulian gave Montanans the chance to see what’s actually in Daines’ bill, it is highly unlikely it would ever editorialize in favor of further “collaboration” between Tester’s and Daines’ bad bills.
Mike Garrity is executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies.