Old school ideas don’t cut it in Montana forests

The Billings Gazette

by Daphne Herling

There are those who believe in the old school way of doing things and those of us who believe in a new way of doing things.

Unfortunately for Montana’s forests and the people who depend on them, the old school way of doing things hasn’t worked out so well. Years ago, even mainstream conservation groups like the Montana Wilderness Association were at war with the timber industry. Because of years of fighting, neither side got what they wanted. Nobody won. And everyone paid the price.

Thank goodness we, the current members and supporters of the Montana Wilderness Association decided to rise above the old school way of doing things. We put aside our differences with Montana’s local timber mills and recreation enthusiasts, and realized we had much more in common. Working together, we came up with a new plan that will actually move us forward instead of keep us in the past. That plan evolved to become the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

Some folks are blinded by ideology and want to keep on fighting until the last man is standing. So it’s no wonder some of the old school extremes — from the Wild West Institute on the left to Citizens for Balanced Use on the right — seem to be singing from the same sheet. Sadly, for these folks the truth seems optional.

But most Montanans are smarter than that. They want solutions. They like to know that their favorite hiking spots and elk hunting haunts won’t be ruined by traffic and machines. They are also concerned that the bottom is dropping out of our timber industry, just as an unprecedented outbreak of pine beetles is killing great swaths of pines and firs.

News reporters are naturally drawn to the fights around the fringes, but we all need to look at the consensus in the center. The groups who do support the bill represent tens of thousands of Montanans.

From many different viewpoints this bill is not perfect. The democratic process requires negotiation and compromise to be successful; but working together, we’re all better off.

We have a choice to protect our forests. We can keep on doing what we’ve done too long, pounding the table, refusing to compromise, and getting nothing done. Or we can work together with our fellow Montanans on a new way, and actually accomplish something.

The Montana Wilderness Association has a 50-year history of protecting the best of Montana. MWA is not content to sit on the laurels of the old school. There is too much at stake. We know that our mission of protecting our wild country and healthy ecosystems requires the complicated and messy work of finding solutions. It’s easier to stand back and lob rocks, but that would be a dereliction of our duty. And besides, there are plenty of folks on both extremes who are happy to play that role.

Daphne Herling of Missoula is the volunteer president of the Montana Wilderness Association.