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The Ecological Costs of Environmentalist Collaboration

by MIKE GARRITY and CAROLE KING

If history has taught us anything, it’s that America is a much better place when environmental laws are enforced.   We need to make sure that people and organizations whose stated mission is to protect and enforce such laws remain fully committed to that mission.  But right now, especially in regard to those lauding collaboration, it’s very difficult to tell where some conservation groups stand.

Significant environmental compromises are being made by groups supporting national forest management legislation that negatively impacts wildlife habitat and old-growth forests and undermines the Wilderness Act of 1964.  Unfortunately, such compromises fail to take into account the vast number of compromises that have already been made over the past century.  As one friend put it recently, “They’ve cut the baby in half for so long they’re now down to the toenails.”

A number of Montana timber mills recently ran a statewide attack ad on the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, claiming “the Forest Service is being held hostage by a small group of professional obstructionists.”  Senator Tester, meanwhile, publicly had this to say about those who oppose his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, “extremists are extremists and I don’t really care.”

We don’t see taking an active part in national forest management or participating in a public policy debate as falling under such derogatory labels.

What’s surprising is that while the Montana timber industry ads openly called for rolling back or eliminating public involvement in order to increase logging on public lands, the conservation groups with whom they’ve been collaborating have been strangely silent.

Do these groups agree with the timber industry’s demands?  If the “collaborative” groups believe we should eliminate the public appeals process and exempt many Montana timber sales from judicial review, they should say so openly to their members and the general public so everyone knows exactly where they stand.  If their goal is to protect land and wildlife in a meaningful way, they should speak up in defense of maintaining full public involvement and judicial review in public lands management.

The mission of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies is “to secure ecological integrity of the Wild Rockies bioregion through citizen empowerment and the application of conservation biology, sustainable economic models and environmental law.”  Enforcing the environmental laws of the United States that apply to public lands management is critical to maintaining ecological integrity.

When our government doesn’t follow the requirements of those laws, the Alliance turns to the courts to force federal agencies to follow the law.  Our record is clear.  Our success in the vast majority of our lawsuits proves beyond a doubt that our claims have merit.

It’s easy to see how a climate of silence from the “collaborative” groups might encourage the Forest Service to believe it can avoid full compliance with environmental laws. It’s more difficult to understand why, when a citizen group steps forward to see that our nation’s laws are enforced, the “collaborative” conservation groups go on a well-financed public relations campaign and their industry “partners” launch statewide attack ads against that group.

It’s clear that corporations want subsidized access to public lands unencumbered by environmental laws.  When the government follows the law, the Alliance supports its actions.  When it doesn’t, we go to court.  That’s how democracy works, and that’s where we stand.

Mike Garrity is a 5th generation Montanan and the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Carole King is a singer, songwriter, author, longtime resident of Central Idaho, and a former Board member of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. She has just published her memoirs: A Natural Woman.
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