Collect facts before cutting into Tester’s forest bill

The Missoulian

by Rick Bass

A recent op-ed by Howie Wolke (Feb. 16), in which he claims that Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation bill was written behind closed doors, needs addressing.

As an early participant in these discussions, I have been watching with disbelief as the far left, for lack of a better phrase, complains that they weren’t included in these talks about proposing some pilot areas of common ground. I’ve been mindful of how opponents of wilderness – and, for that matter, opponents of Tester and Sen. Max Baucus – would love nothing more than for environmentalists to circle the wagons on this issue and start firing at each other, and at leaders brave enough to bring about a solution to this vital issue – which people like Tester know full well has historically been the graveyard of Montana politicians. To brand these untruths as, well, untruths, has not seemed like it would serve the issue – nor environmentalism – well. It’s disappointing to see folks who should be one’s allies traveling a lower road on this matter. They know better.

Some of the claimants I know to be engaging in outright artifice; others, such as Wolke, I must give the benefit of the doubt, and consider that they have been misinformed. I personally traveled to Missoula (was invited to Missoula by some of the organizations who claim there was “secrecy”) to present the proposal, back in its earliest days. I rolled out maps to representatives of these same groups in Libby and asked for their support of and participation in the proposal, and explained, contour by contour – on lands in the Yaak known far more intimately by me than to any distant mapmaker – how the proposal would help wildness and wilderness in western Montana. We did not secure the support of those groups but they were invited to participate, and to Tester’s credit, that invitation has remained open throughout the process. A reader might well imagine then the incredulity with which I and others associated with the bill have had to read these groups’ claims that they were excluded. Not agreeing with something is not the same thing as being excluded.

Democracy is not for the faint of heart and while it’s fine to disagree, at some point the ceaseless reiteration of untruths, as opposed to the more courageous work of wading and seeking to redress what one believes are wrongs, comes eventually to sound not so much like democracy but instead just an awful lot of whining.

Another piece of advice for folks like Howie and Jake Kreilick: don’t go crying to Tester in the future about the need for wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, or the Crazy Mountains, or the Scotchmans, or the Great Burn, or Ten Lakes, or any of the other 7 million acres of unprotected roadless areas in Montana. When a hostile Congress or future administration over-reacts to stand-replacing fires and resurrects a “Logging Without Laws” directive, as we saw only a few short years ago – don’t expect the same folks you’ve accused of dishonesty to be your partners when you need their help on other wilderness matters. I’m not saying Tester would be vengeful — he’s too honest for that, and cognizant that he serves all Montanans — but by the same token, it’s just human nature to not seek to replicate pain.

It’s absolutely all right to oppose the proposal. It’s even OK to not participate in efforts to better it. But to claim that the bill changes the language of the Roadless Rule (which we fought so hard to pass), or calls for logging in core grizzly habitat in the Yaak, or that the proposal was built in secret – is not OK – and serves neither the wilderness idea nor environmentalism in general. If broadcasting such untruths is what being an environmentalist is, count me out.

I applaud the little bill. I agree with Wolke and others that it is but a scrap, a minuscule crumb of success – but it is a net increase for wildness, and it detoxifies 46 years of failure.

Tester’s courage in this matter is matched only by his honesty and transparency, which are disturbingly rare attributes in Washington as well as the rest of the country. I don’t understand why someone would oppose or declaim those qualities. Winning at any cost is not winning.

Rick Bass is an author and a member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. He divides his time between the Yaak and Missoula.