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Barring the Public from Public Meetings

by MATTHEW KOEHLER

The sad and sorry saga of mismanagement and public process failures on the Bitterroot National Forest in western Montana has taken a few more turns for the worst since Jeffrey St. Clair provided Counterpunch readers with a thorough account on September 21 (W Marks the Spot: Bait and Switch in the Bitterroot).

Tuesday, local Bitterroot Valley residents and Friends of the Bitterroot, a grassroots conservation group with 670 members in the area, held a press conference at the Hamilton Public Library to lay out in detail what they describe as “a series of anti-democratic actions by the Bitterroot National Forest under the leadership of Supervisor Dave Bull.”

They also announced “We are requesting the Montana congressional delegation to investigate the unethical, and possibly illegal, actions of Supervisor Bull and Forest Service staff under his direction regarding his blatantly biased public processes in public land management on the Bitterroot National Forest.”

These anti-democratic actions culminated with Bull’s decision to use armed (and armored) guards to prevent three members of the public from attending a public Forest Service press conference at the Supervisor’s office on September 22 announcing the final environmental impact statement for the highly controversial Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction project ­ Montana’s first “Healthy Forest Restoration Act” project.

“I was removed from the press conference at the public Bitterroot National Forest office under escort by an armed Forest Service law enforcement officer who was wearing a bullet-proof vest,” explained Jim Miller, 53, President of Friends of the Bitterroot.

“We’re not dangerous. All we were armed with was pen and paper to take notes. We can only assume that what Supervisor Bull and the Forest Service fear most is the truth. We have hired attorneys and are exploring our legal options regarding this violation of our civil rights.”

Also barred from attending the public press conference at the Bitterroot National Forest office were local residents Stewart Brandborg and Larry Campbell.

Eighty years young, Brandborg is a former Forest Service wildlife biologist whose father was the Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest from 1935 to 1955. In fact, the photo of Brandborg’s father still hangs in the hallway of the Supervisor’s office where he was turned away from the press conference.

“My father was a supervisor on this forest for twenty years. I have an interest in what is taking place on this public forest and want to witness it. I’ve never been barred from attending a public press conference in sixty years of conservation work.”

According to Brandborg, the Bitterroot National Forest had hand-selected those who could attend the press conference in this public building, only allowing individuals to attend who support the Bitterroot National Forest’s unpopular and controversial proposal to log thousands of acres of old-growth forests in prime elk and bighorn sheep habitat as part of this “Healthy Forest” project.

Larry Campbell, 57, a former geologist, logger and carpenter, believes that using armed guards to escort public citizens out of a public office is similar to the type of “manufactured consent” seen at most of President Bush’s political rallies.

“It’s outrageous to be barred from a public meeting in a public place concerning a public decision-making process about public land. This incident is symptomatic of President Bush’s and Supervisor Bull’s approach to public process.”

Ironically, back in 2001, Campbell who was on the receiving end of an assault in the parking lot of this very same Forest Service office. Campbell was assaulted, spit on and threatened by a band of a dozen violent loggers right in the parking lot of the Bitterroot Supervisor’s office in Hamilton as he emerged from inside the office after picking up some public documents.

“Bitterroot National Forest officials did absolutely nothing about the assault and made no attempts to come to my rescue. Instead Forest Service officials simply sat inside the office and peered out the window as the assault took place,” related Campbell.

Public backlash and opposition to Forest Service’s strong-armed, undemocratic tactics has been substantial in western Montana, with a number of local media outlets calling for Supervisor Bull’s immediate removal.

Even the Ravalli Republic, the local newspaper in the Bitterroot Valley with a decidedly conservative bent, wrote a scathing editorial last week stating, “We believe these actions [by Supervisor Bull] cast suspicion on our local Forest Service and create division within our community. Deliberately excluding certain citizens ­ with armed guards no less ­ from attending a press conference because their opinions differ from those invited is not only bad public policy, it’s downright un-American.”

MATTHEW KOEHLER is director of the Native Forest Network based in Missoula, Montana. He can be reached at: koehler@wildrockies.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

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