Clean | Green | Sustainable

Put Bluntly and Country, Tester’s Logging Bill is a Dog that Won’t Hunt

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 9, 2009

Note: The following guest column appeared today in the Great Falls Tribune.

It’s written by Paul Edwards, a former Montana Wilderness Association board member who ended up resigning from MWA’s Board shortly after the Beaverhead Partnership was announced in spring of 2006. Amazingly, even though Edwards was the chair of MWA’s Wilderness Committee, he and other Board members were kept completely in the dark about MWA’s secret, closed-door negotiations with the timber industry, the results of which now makes up the bulk of Tester’s Logging Bill.

It’s also interesting to note that if Edwards supported the Tester Logging Bill, he would be hailed by the Beaverhead Partnership and supporters of Tester’s Logging Bill as a “non-traditional ally” because of his remarkably diverse background.

You see, Edwards worked as a young man as a pea-pitcher, header-puncher, roustabout, wild animal trainer’s assistant, high-steel man, able seaman, movie actor, and NGO rep in I Corps, during the Vietnam War. Edwards also put in 25 years as a writer, director and producer in Hollywood film and television (including serving as a writer for the hit TV show Gunsmoke) before fleeing for his life and what remained of his sanity to his ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front at the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

However, since Edwards is willing to stand up for Wilderness, public lands, sane economic policy and open and transparent public processes, he’s more likely to be labeled an extremist by supporters of Tester’s Logging Bill. Go figure…


Tester Forest Jobs, Recreation Act is a dog that won’t hunt

Well, finally … Sen. Tester and a few strange bedfellows have floated a logging bill that everyone who works, has worked, or hopes to work, for one of four struggling lumber mills or one bankrupt cardboard box maker can wholeheartedly endorse.

Letters to the papers from such folks, including owners and employees of the mills and their “environmental partners,” express boundless joy we’ve all agreed to this federal welfare proposal to bail them out before they perish by the Invisible Hand of the Market.

You know, The Hand that regulates commerce in our American Free Market system and separates businesses that can compete from those can’t and will fail. That’s private enterprise: Some got to win, some got to lose. Tough noogies – the Hand has no pity.

But our big-hearted feds do. Because even though the Greenspans, Bernankes and Geithners who manipulate our money are sworn hardcore believers in free market capitalism, they think some outfits – doggone it – are … well, to big to fail.

Evidently, Tester feels the same about these mills. It’s not that they’re too big, though; it’s that they’re too important to Montana, so he has to bail ’em out with our money. Like the feds did AIG and Goldman Sachs, B of A and Chase, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s the new thing in Free Market Economics: The Invisible Hand’s been replaced by The Visible Handout. That’s what Tester’s Logging Welfare Bill is all about.

What makes these mills so important? Will a bailout create thousands of jobs, pump millions into our economy?

Well, no, its effect would be negligible even in boom times and lumber demand is down 55 percent with prices at modern historic lows. So what, then? Why is Tester pushing this deal?

It’s symbolism. There’s this weird perception rooted deep in our mythology that because extractive industries like mining and logging were once drivers of our economy that they still are; or ought to be; or will be again. The reality is that they can’t hack it in the world market even with the huge subsidies the U. S. industrial welfare program hands them.

But let’s say it was worth giving them a fat pork-barrel deal. What will it look like?

At an estimated taxpayer hit of $100 million from Forest Service losses on these below-cost sales, they get a mandated cut of 100,000 acres over 10 years: 30K in the brutally overcut Yaak and a staggering70K in the bone-dry Beaverhead/Deer Lodge where the Forest Service never allowed more than 2,800 acres cut, even in boom lumbering years.

In addition, more than 1 million acres of inventoried roadless wildland, including most of several of Lee Metcalf’s Wilderness Study Areas, will lose their protection and be opened to “management.”

And what’s the payoff for us Americans who own the forests for keeping these icons of yesteryear on life support? 600,000 acres of rocks and ice wilderness in scattered, widely separated patches with no connectivity, including one tiny island in the hammered Yaak.

For outdoor folks, hunters, anglers, horsemen and seekers after peace and solitude, any wilderness is good wilderness, and after decades without any preservation of Montana wildlands – as fine and whole as any left anywhere – the yearning for it that all of us feel who love and use the outdoors without smog-machines is tremendous.

That said, this bill is a visionless, wholly inadequate wildlands proposal – a fact made obvious by the absence of the word wilderness in its title – that simply gives away far too much to protect far too little. It shows very clearly how little regard Tester and Max Come-Lately have for our irreplaceable wilderness, in spite of phony chin music.

This plan – secretly concocted by its “partners” – is not only a terrible wilderness bill (which it unquestionably is) it’s also a terrible logging bill for everyone but the little mill owners. Since they don’t represent 1 percent of Montana’s working people, you have to wonder how such a sorry, deformed, ugly hash could ever have been sold to Tester.

It will be interesting to watch it in Congress. Word is the “partners” think they have the skids greased. Maybe so, but they may find that in the big federal meat grinder this particular batch of raw pork will be judged too gamy to make acceptable sausage.

Over half a century ago the wise and visionary Aldo Leopold, speaking of a public Land Ethic, said, “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, beauty and stability of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.” No one has ever said it better.

There is just no way to craft a national welfare bill for a few small, desperate lumber mills at the price of so much irreplaceable wild country and sell it to Congress as a grand boon to Montana and America. To put it bluntly and country, Tester’s dog won’t hunt.


One Response to “Put Bluntly and Country, Tester’s Logging Bill is a Dog that Won’t Hunt”

  1. Derek Weidensee said

    Hey Kids,
    Let’s use a little proportional perspective when examining how much “logging” would occur under the Beaverhead Partnership. Let’s let the membership of the Institute decide if it’s too much “industrial” logging. The current harvest rate of 500 acres/year is .02% of the “forested acreage” per year. At that rate it’ll take 50 years to log 1%(that’s a one!). Are you telling me that 1% in 50 years is the “biologically sustainable” magic number. Seems kinda low doesn’t it.
    Only 5% of the “forested acreage” on the BDNF, (I didn’t include rock,ice, grass or water to skew my numbers) has been logged in 50 years! Mathew can confirm these numbers-I showed him where to collect the data. I’d be happy to share the sources with anyone.
    Now, the partnerships proposal to log 70,000 acres in 10 years is another 2.5% of the “forested acreage”. Let the membership decide if that is too much! Sounds pretty sustainable to me.
    There’s an incredible amount of dense “second growth” low elevation dry douglas fir that’s in need of thinning to restore it to pre-settlement conditions. These are lands that were “cut over” a hundred years ago by Anaconda copper. They are now of merchantable size. These are lands that historically had low intensity fires that thinned them out. These are lands that historically were very thin-around 20-75 trees per acre. That’s a spacing of 25′-50′ between trees. These are lands that surround your homes and towns.
    We all know there’s hundreds of thousands of acres of pine beetle killed trees. I would think a pragmatic environmentalist would bo OK with salvaging many of these stands where they threaten homes or people. Remember, contrary to poetic rhetoric,only 2.5% will be logged in 10 years. Plenty of snag habitat will remain.
    The dirty little secret the membership doesn’t know is “regenerated” lodgepole clearcuts don’t burn. Outrageous? Go to “google Earth”. In the “fly too” box type in latitutde “45 deg. 44′ 56.65N” and Long. 113 deg. 44′ 10.71″W. It’s the Mussingbrod fire west of Wisdom. The fire stopped at the regenerated clearcut. Then type in 48deg 48′ 22.39″N and 115deg. 11′ 12.55″W. The “green islands” are regenerated clearcuts that didn’t burn south of Eureka. Have the courage of your convictions.
    Or drive up to the 2007 Brush Creek fire west of Whitefish. The fire was fueled by deadfall from trees killed by pine beetle in the 80’s. 45% of the forest within the fire perimeter survived and is still green, an 90% of that was regenerated clearcuts.
    Philip Omi did a study for the USFS after the Yellowstone fire. It’s titled “fire damage on extensively vs. intensively managed forest stands within Northfork fire”. He found that”fire severity was greatest on mature forests on national park lands, as opposed to areas with saplings in regenerated clearcuts” and “90% of mature forests suffered severe fire damage while only 20% of regenerated clearcuts did”.
    Look, clearcuts don’t stop fires, but that’s where they’re stopped. Ask any wildland firefighter. Look, no ones saying “clearcut it all to save it! I’ll leave that to histirical fools. Remember, only 2.5%.
    Far from subsidizing the timber industry, the USFS has been subsidizing the enviros with excesive enviro review to lawsuit proof their plans. The cost to prepare a USFS timber sale has doubled in 20 years. I’ve seen several Montana State “pine beetle salvage” timber sales that were sold in the last few months where the state made $800-$1400/acre “revenue”. The state makes $2.00 in revenue for every $1.00 spent preparing them. The members need to ask themselves how can the State make so much money, but the USFS can’t? Research it.
    The 2800 acre/year is bogus. The Northern region website lists timber harvest “acres by harvest methods” for every forest for every year back to 1945. The average for the years 1965-1969 was 5200 acres/year. The average from 1983-1987 was 5200 acres/year. Those were clearcut acres.
    Finally, live your idealsim. If you want zero cut (I’d call 1% in 50 years zero), than shouldn’t you also advocate zero use? All of those quoted above live in wood houses. Mathew was quoted once as saying it’s OK because his house was built in 1949. That means it was built out of old growth Larch logged off of Anaconda land. By that logic, it’s OK to live in a wood home if it was built in 2007, as long as it had a previous owner.
    Do you ever ponder alternative historic endings? What is your preffered alternative to the “post WW II” society and it’s housing boom? One prominent green says we should have built smaller homes like those in Europe. The average home in Europe is 1200 sq.ft. The average U.S. home in the 50’s was 1200 sq.ft. It was only when the “woodstock generation” built out that the home size doubled. You see the point. Society built the homes he wanted, and they still used all that wood. Where would you have gotten the wood that built the cozy home you grew up in? Don’t critize a plan without offering an alternative. I’ve never heard an alternative from an enviro.
    Admit to using wood in your life. Don’t justify. Seek perspective. Theres no truer statement than “seldom are issues black and white but shades of gray”
    Please e-mail me at for my sources.

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