Just before Christmas 2015, years of work and thousands of hours of individual effort by people from all walks of life in northwest Montana came to fruition when the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders made a landmark agreement about land use on the Kootenai National Forest. The spectrum of participants was stunning: timber executives, motorized use groups, fish and wildlife scientists, the U.S. Forest Service, local governments and wilderness advocates—including the group I work for—all took part. Organizations and individuals—some that have been past adversaries—got together, sat down at the table and worked out a deal.
No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got a lot of what they wanted. The motorized community got a number of roads opened for their use, and the non-motorized folks received a gift of 75 miles of trail declared non-motorized. Planned logging would create badly needed jobs, reduced forest fuel levels and habitat for big game. New chunks of wilderness were even agreed upon.
The stakeholders and the general public were rightly pleased with the outcome. In a reeling economy, harvest of 39 million board feet from the East Reservoir Project was good news for Lincoln County. But, the best news was that a group of people who live and work on the Kootenai National Forest put their differences aside and came up with a plan that suited all who participated.
Not everyone participated. The Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies didn’t show up. In spite of a personal invitation to AWR exec Mike Garrity from then-Region One Forester Fay Krueger, AWR deigned to come to the table. Instead, they sat back, waited for the work to be done, and then sued to stop one of the critical components of the agreement, the East Reservoir Project.
The Project survived the first suit, filed in July, but AWR filed an appeal. On Sept. 13, two days before logging was to begin, the project was halted by 9th Circuit Judges Wardlaw and Callahan.
Whether there is merit to the Alliance’s lawsuit is not for me to say. I’m just a moderate wilderness-loving tree-hugger from western Montana whose dad was a logger and a miner and yet helped teach me about wild country and how important it is to the planet. I’ve also learned to listen to what other people have to say about what’s important to them, and I believe that those who live closest to a place should have the most to say about what happens there.
As the appeal moves forward, Judges Wardlaw and Callahan might consider that AWR was invited to join its voice with the rest of the Kootenai Stakeholders, and ignored the invitation. This demonstrates to me and the Stakeholders—as well as the larger community of the West—an arrogant, self-righteousness, “I know what’s best for you” attitude that isn’t going to solve any problems facing the West today.
Program Coordinator, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness
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