by Steve Kelly, Opinion, Reeder’s Alley, Helena Independent Record
Wilderness activists remain strongly divided over Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. For a long four years, Sens. Tester and Max Baucus have dodged genuine public debate on the bill’s methodology and retrograde policy implications. Political framing has been meticulous and constant from the get-go. Huge sums of political cash have been spent by big-name, “non-profit” environmental groups (timber partners) to promote the bill and lubricate Sen. Tester’s political machine.
Widespread objection to the bill’s unsustainable, 100,000-acre logging mandate remains. Bulldozers could lay waste to roughly 1 million acres of inventoried roadless areas by overturning hard-fought regulatory protection afforded by the “Clinton Roadless Rule.”
Fish and wildlife habitat losses will be staggering. Clearcutting will seriously impact water quality. Recreational opportunities for quiet hikes and cross-country skiing will be eliminated and replaced with a vast network of logging roads.
The public forests in the Northern Rockies are the most ecologically sensitive ecosystems in the Lower 48 states. When critics have tried to point out that total costs far outweigh the benefits, Sen. Tester smears opposing voices. “Extremists!”
Montana journalists don’t ask tough questions of Sen. Tester. The media could hardly be more accommodating to his authoritarian style and methods.
An alternative bill in the U.S. House protects intact ecosystems with no logging mandates, and no additional timber subsidies. Based upon peer-reviewed science and sustainable economics, HR 1187, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, protects all roadless areas in the five-state, Wild Rockies bioregion.
Protecting wilderness and wildlife habitat is a sound long-term, generational strategy for Montana that clearly outweighs any short-term political advantage that may favor Sen. Tester in his next campaign. Montanans are faced with important choices between politics and science, sustainable economics and crony corporatism. Let the people decide their grandchildren’s future.
Steve Kelly is with the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council in Bozeman.