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Mad Men Pitch High Speed Rail for U.S. PIRG

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 9, 2011

From U.S. PIRG:

WASHINGTON, Mar. 9 –Two lead actors from the hit television show Mad Men throw their support behind high-speed rail in a humorous new online video. The actors and U.S. PIRG, a national advocacy organization, developed the video as a way to reach new audiences and build excitement for high-speed rail projects around the country.


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Tom Power on source of state gov’t budget difficulties across US

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 4, 2011

(A good one from University of Montana economist Tom Power, which appeared earlier in the week on MT Public Radio. – mk)

The latest political fad is to blame the budget difficulties at both the federal and state levels on government employees, in particular on their wages, benefits, and right to bargain collectively. There is something massively disorienting about this picture because it involves a distorted rewriting our recent economic history and the basic facts about government employment.

Federal, state, and local government budgets are under stress right now because of the financial collapse that triggered the Great Recession. As financial markets melted down and housing values plummeted, financial and construction workers were laid off wholesale, households stopped spending as much money and started saving so that they had some financial cushion if their family got caught up in the cascading layoffs. Faced with a drop in consumer spending and tight credit markets, businesses shelved expansion plans and did the opposite, laying off workers throughout the economy. Business profits tumbled, wage payments shrank, capital gains disappeared and were replaced with capital losses. The flow of tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments declined dramatically.

But governments still had to meet their usual obligations to put police on the streets, firefighters in fire stations, and teachers in schools. The federal government continued to face the cost of two wars and the world’s mightiest military force spread across the globe. Local governments still had to plow the snow and repair the roads.

In addition governments at all levels faced the increased costs associated with supporting the unemployed, coping with rising poverty, hunger, and homelessness and helping communities and families weather the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, 70 years ago.
It was those shrinking government tax revenues and stable or rising demand for government services that created the budget problems that plague governments at all levels.

It was not the wild spending of liberals or the wages and benefits of government workers who created the current budget problems. When the last Democratic president left office in 2000, the federal budget was running a surplus and most state government budgets were being balanced. It was not wild liberals who insisted on fighting two wars and expanding Medicare benefits while dramatically cutting taxes. It was a conservative Republican, George W. Bush. Instead of asking us to sacrifice to fund those wars and expanded benefits by paying higher taxes, he cut our taxes, started running massive deficits, and insisted that the most patriotic thing for citizens to do was to go shopping, assumedly using their credit cards.

Meanwhile, the deregulation fever spread and the economy lurched from one speculative bubble to another. We were all going to get rich, not by making more or better products, but by investing money in more and more risky financial gambles. The Las Vegas casino became our new economic model. The outcome was the near collapse of the nation’s and the world’s financial system and almost a repeat of the Great Depression. Instead, we “merely” got the Great Recession, the economic pain of which is likely to be with us for at least two more years.

It was not overpaid school teachers or police officers who brought this on us. It was outrageously overpaid financial speculators and corporate CEOs. Strangely enough, I do not hear Republican demagogues urging that the government take action against the real culprits behind the financial collapse and resulting Great Recession. The people who became hundred-millionaires in their high-stakes gambling with our livelihoods and homes go unmentioned. The fact that they are back at work wheeling and dealing and raking in their outrageous salaries, bonuses, and commissions is also ignored.

Instead the state budget deficits are blamed on underpaid school teachers and other civil servants. The fact is that the pay received by most state and local government workers, when adjusted for education, skill, and experience is notoriously lower that the pay in the private sector. Many local government workers actually qualify for food stamps.

It is true that politicians found it easier to make government jobs somewhat more attractive not by raising government workers’ salaries but by offering expanded medical and retirement benefits. Like many large corporations, those politicians also did not adequately fund the pension promises they made to their workers. Those promises did not have to be paid for until some distant point in time when the politicians and corporate CEOs would be long gone. As the failure of corporate pension plans across the nation over the last two decades has demonstrated, such financial irresponsibility has not been limited to the public sector.

The attack on teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and other civil servants as the cause of the various states’ budget problems is cheap scapegoating. Public employees did not cause the Great Recession that cutoff the flow of tax revenues to state government coffers. Very wealthy financial speculators did that. It is pure political demagoguery to use the fear and uncertainty generated by the current economic hard times to attack underpaid workers in order to pursue an unrelated political agenda, namely to renew the ongoing attack on workers’ rights to collectively bargain in their workplace.

There is no doubt that there is more economic pain to come and that government employees are going to have to share in it. Most have offered to do so. That is a fact of life during a serious economic downturn. But blaming the hard times and budget deficits on those whose pay and benefits you are cutting and topping that off by unilaterally taking away some of their civil rights, demoting them to second class citizens, is hardly a way of bringing citizens together to weather, as best we can, these very difficult times. When we need to be pulling together as a nation, state, and community, this partisan scapegoating is simply making bad times worse.

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Is the essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 4, 2011

That’s the central question asked in a new film Forests by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who was appointed by the United Nations to produce the official film for the International Year of Forests.

Following the success of Home, which was seen by 400 million people, Arthus-Bertrand began producing a short 7-minute film on forests made up of aerial images from Home and the Vu du Ciel television programmes.

“Over the past 60 years we have inflicted more rapid degradation on the planet than in all of human history. When forests are cleared it is not just animals that are in danger. Is the essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous?”

I’m certainly nothing more than a causal film viewer; however, some of the footage in Forests, where Arthus-Bertrand takes us into the canopy of forests around the world, is just mind-boggling and appears three-dimensional. Enjoy all this green on another gray Montana day!

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New poll shows western voters support environmental protections

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 24, 2011

A new bi-partisan poll of inter-mountain West voters shows that a strong majority (77%) believe that environmental standards and a strong economy can coexist. The findings, from the first-ever Conservation in the West Survey, reveal differences and many points of agreement among voters on issues such as conservation, regulations, renewable energy and other environmental issues.

The poll, conducted by Lori Weigel at Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), measured environmental attitudes of 2,200 voters in the five Western states January 23-27, 2011. The survey is being released by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, which, for the past eight years, has worked to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rockies through annual report cards, free events, discussions and other activities.

“This research underscores an interesting and important trend in these five states,” said Walt Hecox, Ph.D., professor at Colorado College and director of the State of the Rockies Project. “While there are differences of opinion on a range of issues, there are true common values shared between each state, including a commitment to protect the important natural resources that make this region so unique.”

Click here to view the executive summary or entire report.

Below are some interesting Montana-specific findings, especially in the context of the current gutting/eliminating/slashing of environmental protection laws and regulations by the GOP majorities in Helena.

As part of efforts to improve the state economy and generate jobs as quickly as possible, some people have proposed reducing protections on land, air and water that apply to major industries, including construction and agriculture. Would you prefer that:
• Montana reduce protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries: 20%
• Montana maintain protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries: 73%

Even with state budget problems, we should still find money to protect Montana’s land, water and wildlife.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 81%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 16%

We should ensure that undeveloped, public lands in Montana are kept in their natural state.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 75%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 20%

We need to do more to ensure oil, gas and mining companies follow laws protecting our land, air and water.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 76%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 22%

Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy, Sustainable Solutions, Unsustainable, US Congress | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

President Obama sets sustainability goals for federal agencies

Posted by Matthew Koehler on October 7, 2009

From the White House:

WASHINGTON, DC – Demonstrating a commitment to lead by example, President Obama signed an Executive Order today that sets sustainability goals for Federal agencies and focuses on making improvements in their environmental, energy and economic performance. The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.

“As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” said President Obama.

The Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The Executive Order also requires federal agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets, including:

  • 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020;
  • 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020;
  • 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015;
  • 95% of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements;
  • Implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement;

Click here to read the entire executive order.

This is a good step in the right direction and, quite frankly, it’s about time. I have a previous post up about something similar, which I called the “sustainability filter.”

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Cut Phone Book Waste, Not Forests

Posted by Matthew Koehler on August 12, 2009

Earlier today, my buddy Josh Martin, a dedicated activist who works for the Environmental Paper Network out of North Carolina, passed along this excellent and well-researched Green Rant: Stop Sending Me Phone Books by Lea Bogdan over at

Please give it a read, pass it along and take action.

Posted in Forests, logging, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

NY Times Sings NREPA’s Praises

Posted by Matthew Koehler on July 7, 2009

Efforts to protect remaining roadless wildlands and restore logged over public lands in the northern Rockies got a boost today when the New York Times penned an editorial strongly in favor of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Posted in Climate Change, Forests, Green jobs, logging, Restoration Economy, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Uncategorized, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Once Again, Rehberg Gets It Wrong

Posted by Matthew Koehler on May 27, 2009

(This article was written by Paul Richards. Richards is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and numerous state and federal advisory councils.  In 2006, he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Click here for Richards’ testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands concerning NREPA.)

Montana’s far-right Rep. Denny Rehberg got a lot of ink with his tirade against H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and his mean-spirited attack upon Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who is sponsoring the Act, along with 70 other members of Congress.

Rehberg claims “96 percent of us who live in these areas oppose this bill.”  In reality, 78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National Forest roadless wildlands.  Montanans overwhelmingly support the “Roadless Conservation Rule” that safeguarded the 6.4 million acres that are included in NREPA.

The Roadless Conservation Rule received the most public participation of any proposed federal regulation in the history of the nation.  In Montana, 34 hearings were held across the state, while over 600 hearings were held throughout the country.

In total, more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the roadless protection policy.  An overwhelming majority – 78 percent of all Montanans and 95 percent of all Americans – supported full protection for our country’s roadless wildlands.

Rehberg claims that NREPA “federalizes” these public roadless wildlands and that “bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land.”  Apparently, Rehberg does not know basic American history:  His fellow Republican, President Theodore Roosevelt “federalized” these lands in 1907, over 100 years ago!

Rehberg  evokes the most passion with his stirring defense of gun rights.  “There’s a new concern looming in the minds of the folks around Montana and the country,” he warns.  “There aren’t many things folks in the Northern Rockies care more about than their Second Amendment rights.  Bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land, but they don’t guarantee Second Amendment rights on that land.”

Huh?  Rehberg, one of the richest members of Congress, is a land developer and spokesman for big oil.  Were he a hunter or outdoorsman, he would know that, since our roadless wildlands provide the best habitat, they are the preferred places for big game hunting.  With guns.  Has Rehberg ever heard of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, our region’s hunting Mecca?

Montana has the best hunting season in the country, and it’s not by accident. Our five-week-long general hunting season is due directly to the prime habitat provided by these 6.4 million acres of roadless wildlands.  Montana hunters and anglers want these lands protected.

Rehberg is just plain WRONG when he claims Montanans do not support these priceless wildlands.  Rehberg is WRONG when he says we don’t appreciate their pure water, clean air, and abundant fish and wildlife.  Rehberg is WRONG when he claims Montanans and other residents of the Northern Rockies want to destroy these public wildlands with taxpayer-subsidized road-building, logging, mining, and other development.

Despite Rehberg’s claims:  Private land is NOT affected by NREPA; grazing and existing mining claims are NOT changed; gun rights are NOT taken away; and environmentally-sustainable logging outside roadless areas will continue.  We’re NOT talking about already-developed national forestlands.  These are federally-inventoried ROADLESS AREAS, for God’s sake!  They have been wild for millennia.  Their remaining so will not bring about apocalypse.

Rehberg apparently has no concept of leaving future generations a public lands legacy.  Our future citizenry will need these wildlands for psychological, spiritual, scientific, economic, educational, biological, ecological, and societal well-being.  Public wildlands are simply too valuable to be recklessly squandered away by short-term politicians like Rehberg.

The biggest lie that Rehberg and other extremists perpetuate about NREPA is that is it is “top-down” management, forced upon us locals by “outsiders” like Rep. Maloney.  First, these National Forest wildlands belong to ALL Americans, not just local anti-wilderness rednecks.

More importantly, Rehberg is just plain wrong about NREPA’s origins.  After consulting with numerous Montana conservation organizations and wildlife biologists, I wrote the first draft of what-was-to-become the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act in 1986.  After involving about a dozen more regional conservation groups, I wrote the text of the second draft of what-was-to-become NREPA in 1987.

I’m not an “outsider.”  I was born and raised in Helena.  Growing up in Montana, we always heard about “multiple use” for our National Forests.  When I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, that meant hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, hunting, grazing, and fishing.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, however, we saw more and more National Forest wildlands converted into single uses:  Roads, clearcuts, same-species tree plantations, scars from off-road vehicles, open pit mines, and toxic mine waste dumps.

Now, in the National Forest nearest my home, two-thirds of the Forest has been developed.  We who grew up here have first-hand knowledge that roadless wildlands are fast disappearing.  Roads on National Forests in Montana increased from 8,600 miles in 1945 to 32,900 miles in 1997.  Nationally, the Forest Service is now overwhelmed by more than 380,000 miles of roads, eight times larger than the entire Interstate highways system!

We who grew up here know that it is time to protect ALL of our few remaining public roadless wildlands in the Northern Rockies.  Twenty-three years is long enough to wait:  NREPA’s time is now!

Posted in Forests, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Wilderness Defender Carole King & NREPA Featured at Huff Post

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 24, 2009

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.
Edward Abbey (1927 – 1989)

Yesterday, the Huffington Post featured Todd Wilkinson’s look at Carole King’s sixteen year effort to protect Wilderness in the northern Rockies. The four-time Grammy Award winner has been a stalwart in the Wilderness movement every since 1993, when King was captivated by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ vision for Wilderness protection based on science and the needs of wildlife, not politics.  Much of King’s activism has centered around her remarkable efforts to see the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) passed by Congress and signed into law.

We’ve written about NREPA before. In a nutshell, NREPA:

• Designates as Wilderness 24 million acres of roadlless wildlands in the Northern Rockies;

• Connects natural, biological corridors, ensuring the continued existence of native plants and animals and mitigating the effects of climate change;

• Restores habitat that has been severely damaged from tens of thousands of logging roads that were built, and creates more than 2,300 restoration jobs in rural communities leading to a more sustainable economic base in the region;

• Keeps water available for ranchers and farmers downstream until it is most needed; and

• Eliminates subsidized development in the designated of 24 million acres of new wilderness areas, saving taxpayers $245 million over a 10-year period.

If you want more information about NREPA, including the full text of the bill and also a link to some really nifty maps broken down by National Forests, click here.

Do yourself a favor. Read the excellent feature on Carole King’s Wilderness activism, get inspired and then take a page from Carol’s book and get active!! You’re Congressional representative is waiting to hear from you!

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Morels, Fire and Non-Timber Forest Product Management

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 23, 2009

The other day, I found my first morel mushroom of the year. I wish I could say the morels were found after scouring the banks of a nearby creek or following an epic journey deep into the mountains. But, nope, not these morels. I found them growing in the woodchips of a native landscaping job I did for a neighbor last fall. Go figure!

It’s been unseasonably warm the past five days in Missoula and apparently that warm weather, combined with some water I recently dumped on native flowers and plants, (to give them an extra boast this spring) was too good a situation for the morels to pass up. So they fruited and I picked them and gave them to the neighbor to try. I told her to put them in a pan with some butter and salt and see what happens. I haven’t gotten a report, but I guarantee the morels didn’t taste bad…they never do.

Later that morning, I called my good friend Larry Evans, who’s been called the “Indiana Jones of Mushroom Hunting.” Larry stars in a new Ronn Mann film titled, Know Your Mushrooms and he was also recently featured in the Missoula Independent.

Larry was excited about the news of my morel find and over the phone he even boldly proclaimed, “Matty Dread, you’ve found the first morels of the year! The Frenchman has been searching his place for weeks and he hasn’t found anything. Histrocially, April 21 isn’t the earliest first morel I’ve seen in Western Montana, but it’s on the early side.” Well, I doubt it really was the first morel of the year, but it was a nice find nonetheless, and it’s always great to see just how excited Larry gets over fungi!

All of this is really just a round about way to bring us to the real reason for this post. The Spring issue of Fungi Magazine, a great resource for amateur and profession mushroom enthusiasts, mycophiles and mycologists, includes an article from Larry about morels, fire and non-timber forest products. In the article Larry makes a solid case that forests are not destroyed or lifeless following a wildfire, as we often hear portrayed in the media. In fact, Larry points out that “Fungi are no strangers to fire. Of about 430 species of Ascomycetes in the Pacific Northwest, over 100 species require a forest fire to produce fruiting bodies.”

It’s an interesting article and worth a read. Hopefully it will inspire you to take a closer look into what’s happening on the forest floor near you!

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