Another fire season has come and gone with over 1 million acres burnt which produced weeks of smoke and cost hundreds of millions to control. The detrimental effects of these fires include impaired health, loss of tourism dollars, burnt out structures and damage to both wildlife and our ecosystems. It is clear the Forest Service cannot appropriately manage our forests mainly because of the extreme environmentalist vision of the “Rocky Mountain Corridor,” which is enforced by environmental laws and particularly the Endangered Species Act.
We, the people, won’t let the Forest Service manage our forests because we won’t do anything about the environmental laws which turn our forest management over to a single federal judge. It is true that the Forest Service has too much bureaucracy and a “let it burn” mentality which cost us the wonderful treasure of the Sperry Chalet. It is also true that the Forest Service refuses offers of loggers and other interested parties to put out fires when they are small. Worse yet is the rumor that Forest Service officials actually receive loftier bonuses for larger fires instead of getting compensated for putting fires out when they are small. That being said I presume the Forest Service wants to manage our forests in a logical and efficient manner, but can’t because of lawsuits and the dictates of our federal judges. If we, the people, do not change these egregious laws to eliminate lawsuits, we should not use the Forest Service as the scapegoat for our own failures.
In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, when the Forest Service used logging to manage our forests, we had few fires like the ones we so frequently see in in our forests today even though we experienced many long, hot dry summers (so please don’t give me the tall tale it’s because of “global warming” — that’s absurd). The Forest Service in those days understood that to appropriately manage our forests, they needed to have access to the woods, which meant they needed roads. Roads allowed the Forest Service to manage our timber resources using logging to take out and productively use older, overgrown mature trees as well as diseased or dead timber, consequently creating new growth and open areas so vital for the wildlife living in our forests. At the same time, they knew they were generating good-paying jobs for Montana families while producing a much needed product needed by all for the building of homes and businesses. Roads also provided access for larger equipment like D-6 Cats which are so effective in fire containment. But not only were roads used for access, they also made great fire breaks where men and equipment could make a stand to get a fire under control.
But standing in the way of sensible forest management are the far left eco-theorists whose little known goal is the Rocky Mountain Corridor — a giant preserve running down the Rockies from Alaska to Mexico meant to be as natural as possible which means eliminating or at least minimizing human activity within its boundaries and in particular, roads. Once you realize this goal it is easy to understand why the Forest Service has been forced to block off and/or destroy over 21,000 miles of roads, let others go into disrepair and let trails into the woods disintegrate.
The weapons this group uses to enforce this goal are environmental laws (headed by the Endagered Species Act) which allow endless lawsuits that effectively stop any reasonable management efforts. Judge Molloy is their main ally as he is the dictator of what goes on, shutting down logging and mining projects with impunity and caring little about the detrimental effects it produces for everyday Montana people who lose their jobs, inhale the smoke and watch helplessly as vast tracts of land are set aside for only the privileged few.
Even though I hear lots of talk from our political figures like Sen.r Daines and Rep. Gianforte, it appears they are unwilling to confront our main problem—the ESA . They are unwilling to embrace the reality that this law is old and out of date; that it has long ago achieved its purpose of ensuring the continuation of species; that there is no chance of the grizzly bear going extinct; that people and our wildlife can live and prosper together; to express the reality that this law needs to be dramatically changed so that one judge doesn’t have the sole dictatorship over our abundant natural resources. New laws need to be formulated so that Montanans and specifically those communities affected by decisions have a major voice in the outcome.
If we, as individuals, as towns, as cities and counties (and the Forest Service as well), do not stand up and demand modification of the Endangered Species Act and other similar laws, nothing is going to change as it will be impossible for the Forest Service to effectuate good management practices for our forest lands. That will mean that we, the citizens of Western Montana, will be faced with this reality for the future — lack of good-paying jobs, reduced tourism, less access to our public lands, wildfires, devastated forests and wildlife, huge firefighting costs, burnt out homes and structures, and more, many more days coughing with lungs laden with smoke and particulates — a grim prospect to be sure, but, if we do nothing, one we will surely deserve.
Agather is a resident of Kalispell.