by Sherry Devlin, the Missoulian
Time to speak out
Science and economics are “overwhelming” in their endorsement of aroadbuilding ban in roadless areas of the national forests, conservationists said Tuesday.
But the facts are being misrepresented by “carnival barkers in the timber industry,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited and one of a half-dozen speakers at a morning news conference in Missoula.
“I am extremely disturbed by the misrepresentations,” Farling said. “The industry is misleading people about the state of our rural areas and distracting attention from the real issues.”
Hoping to deliver an early counter to Wednesday’s convoy and rally by timber workers, Farling and others insisted that most Americans support the Forest Service’s proposed prohibition on road construction and reconstruction in roadless areas of the national forests.
“This is not some federal land grab orchestrated by extreme environmentalists,” said the Rev. Peter Shober, pastor of University Congregational Church in Missoula. “This is simply a reasonable way to preserve what we have been given for those who will follow us.”
Shober said people of faith believe they are called to be “stewards of the Earth, not with dominion over the environment, but treating it with gentleness and kindness.”
“We need to listen to people from all kinds of backgrounds,” he said. “We need to lift up the dignity of life in all its forms. The Earth is not ours to use up, but to preserve for all the generations that follow.”
Shober said he is worried about the anger that surrounds the roadless issue, and the antagonism that exists between people on all sides of the issue.
One of the most frequent targets of criticism in recent days, in fact, spoke at the news conference. University of Montana economist Tom Power conceded that his support for the roadbuilding ban “has gotten me in a little hot water,” but said “the likely economic impact of protecting all of Montana’s roadless national forests can easily be calculated.”
Power’s analysis, included in the Forest Service’s draft environmental impact statement on the roadless proposal, has drawn the ire of timber workers and recreationists from throughout western Montana. Some have threatened to burn copies of his work during a protest rally in Missoula on Wednesday.
But Power said his message remains the same: “Protecting our roadless places makes good economic sense. Protecting those places in the past has contributed to our economic vitality.”
Even in Montana counties with the most national forest acreage, the wood-products industry provides just 3.5 percent of total personal income, according to Power. And roadless areas provide just 1 percent to 2 percent of the national forest timber harvest in those places, he said.
“There is no plausible economic argument that can be made against this proposal,” he said. “That’s why the industry is making another argument and trying to shift the attention to rural values and communities.”
Science is no less staunch in its support for a roadbuilding ban, according to Farling. “Fishery and hydrological scientists overwhelmingly conclude that roads on public lands are seriously harming native fish.”
If Montanans want to avoid endangered species listings and protect their fishery heritage, they should support the protection of roadless areas, Farling said. As proof, he offered:
- The South Fork of the Flathead River has perhaps the state’s strongest populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Most of the watershed is roadless.
- The Blackfoot drainage has some of the healthiest populations of migratory bull and cutthroat trout in Montana. The three most important spawning tributaries for bull trout are Monture Creek, the North Fork and Landers Fork. Large portions of these watersheds are roadless. Bull trout are uncommon in heavily roaded tributaries of the Blackfoot.
- Rock Creek is one of the most popular wild trout fisheries in Montana. About half of the watershed is roadless.
- Most of the remaining pure-strain westslope cutthroats in the upper Missouri drainage are in roadless areas along the Rocky Mountain Front, in the Elkhorns, in the upper Big Hole and in “roadless fragments” found along the Continental Divide.
- Studies indicate that the tributaries of the Bitterroot River with relict bull trout populations are either roadless or in wilderness. The stream reaches without bull trout and with few cutthroat trout are those that have been roaded and developed.
- Many of the healthiest populations of westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout found in the middle reaches of the Clark Fork watershed are found in headwaters areas of the proposed Great Burn wilderness, including Cache Creek and the North and West Forks of Fish Creek.
And fish, according to Farling, are good for economic development and rural economies. In 1994, anglers spent 37.1 million days fishing on national forests, contributing $1.8 billion to local economies, he said.
“More roads aren’t necessary for accessing this type of recreation,” Farling said. “Angling in Montana is estimated to contribute some $300 million annually to our economy. Most of this activity targets coldwater species, mainly trout.”
And roads, he said, kill trout. “It’s that simple.”
Missoulian reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or at email@example.com.