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America is a Nation of Laws: Collaboration and Its Discontents

A local environmentalist in Northwest Montana, Sandy Compton has been complaining that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies wouldn’t come to their collaborative meetings.  But why would the Alliance, which is an organization that advocates for healthy forests and recovery of endangered species, want to conspire to help local people in the Kootenai National Forest figure out how to break federal laws?

Compton’s collaborative group came up with a less-than-amazing plan where federal taxpayers across the nation would pay millions of dollars to subsidize clearcutting of lynx, grizzly bear and bull trout habitat on the national forests owned by all Americans, not just a handful in the Kootenai.  And as the Court ruling proved, their plan ignored the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

Didn’t the Bundys come up with a similar plan to dictate policies on public lands for their own local profits?  Of course Compton’s group was more sophisticated than the Bundys and instead of showing up with guns to take over a wildlife refuge, they conspired with the Forest Service, the timber industry, and groups like the Montana Wilderness Association to break federal laws.

The bottom line – and the core of the problem – is that Compton’s collaborative agreed to massively log one of the most heavily-logged forests in Montana.  The grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem are going extinct because of past logging and road-building that produced 22,000 acres of existing clearcuts in the East Reservoir area on the east side of Lake Koocanusa.

Despite this, the East Reservoir timber sale, which the collaborative backed, calls for another 8,845 acres of commercial logging, of which 3,458 acres will be new clearcuts in federally-designated lynx critical habitat.  Bear in mind that the Forest Service’s own scientists say clearcuts harm, not help, lynx.  Meanwhile, consider that by the Forest Service’s own estimate the sale will cost taxpayers $2,589,535 to subsidize the further degradation of already degraded habitat.

The problem with both the Bundy’s and Compton’s scheme is that America is a nation of laws.  The Bundys were arrested by the FBI but there is no federal agency policing the Forest Service.  Instead when Congress wrote natural resource laws they include a citizen enforcement provision because our Constitution has the First Amendment, which gives all Americans the right to challenge the federal government.

This is what the Alliance for the Wild Rockies did when we challenged the Forest Service’s decision on East Reservoir.  When the local district court decided that it was alright for the Forest Service to violate the Endangered Species Act, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in.  Judges appointed by both a Republican president and a Democrat president halted the clearcutting because the Forest Service was clearly violating the law.

In the end both Compton and the Bundys are finding out that just because a group of people get together and decide that they don’t want to follow the law, that’s not the way it works in America.  We are a nation of laws and nobody is above the law. Not the Bundys, not the Forest Service, not timber corporations, not pseudo conservation groups and not Compton’s collaborative.

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Michael Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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