by Paul Edwards, Guest Columnist
I see where Julia Altemus, chief lobbyist for the Montana Wood Products Association, is congratulating herself for supporting a lot more logging in Montana national forests (guest column, May 9). And she’s not alone. Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation (guest column, April 28), and Bruce Farling of Trout Unlimited (guest column, May 7), are both right in there, pitching for more logging, plenty of it. Bring it on, they cry.
This might seem confusing at first sight, I’ll grant you, since France’s main concern is supposed to be wildlife, and Farling’s is theoretically trout, but you have to remember that even the Montana Wilderness Association — their reason for being is wilderness, right? — is an avid “timber partner” now, too.
This is in line with the modern idea that principles are all very well, but no need to be too stiff-necked about ’em. Say your sole purpose was defense of fish, or animals, or wilderness. OK, fine, but when something more important is at stake, like the profits of big timber outfits, you need to be flexible. Don’t get all hung up on your own mission.
Altemus is keen on a provision of the ADM/Monsanto/Cargill Farm Bill that authorizes logging on 5 million acres of Montana forests. It exempts 3,000 acre blocks from any silly, counter-productive input from its public owners.
She can’t believe that “fringe” groups got bent just because our governor made his logging selections in secret phone calls with interested parties. By interested parties I mean folks like Altemus, France, Farling and a couple logging outfits who, being keen on getting the cut out, are just who you’d want to make these decisions, so what’s the big deal, she’d like to know.
On top of being mad just because the governor didn’t obey the law, these groups have the brass to object to getting other old laws out of the way of “timber management,” which is a technical term for cutting down trees.
Altemus just has to shake her head at their lack of trust in the “Lumber Service” (Forest Service) and its representatives in Congress, which are, after all, their very own representatives too, though not so much.
It gripes her that even though the bill guarantees clearcuts won’t have any effect on anything, or any consequences, “fringe” groups quibble. So what, she says, if lumber outfits are exempted from needing discharge permits for logging debris runoff: that doesn’t mean there’ll ever be any!
Besides, come on, she says, the deal will be strictly overseen not only by the Lumber Service and the logging industry, but also by the very interested parties who helped craft it. How do you beat that? All experience tells us how wonderful it is when industry polices itself.
Furthermore, all projects are about hazardous fuel reduction on “healthy forest” lines. We all know big, old trees just stand there pumping out oxygen for hundreds of years, and then finally rot and are good for nothing but to replenish soil and sustain various kinds of life that don’t matter. Anyhow, when a forest isn’t healthy it has to be saved by cutting it down.
Long story short, Altemus and her lumber partners, and Bullock, are proud to stand tall for the grand old American tradition of making money by taking whatever can be had from the public domain without paying for it.
The lumber partners back cost-free enterprise. It’s called that because you and I and all Americans get to contribute our irreplaceable property as if it had no value at all to those who make big bucks from it.
Of course, Altemus gets paid by those people, so no wonder she wants to set us straight. France and Farling are more altruistic. They’re glad to ignore protection for critters due to their desire to keep a few shaky lumber mills on government welfare. Brings a tear to your eye.
Sure magnanimous of Altemus to shine her light of unmitigated self-interest on this stealth, extra-legal logging and the cranky efforts of “fringe” groups to gum it up. It’s tough slogging for ordinary folks to see through such ethically twisted stuff on their own.
So take Altemus’ words for what they’re worth: don’t be fooled.
Paul Edwards of Helena is on the board of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Montana Environmental Information Center.