Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!

Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?

Montana, like most of the West, continues to struggle with the question of how its massive federal lands should be managed. While collaborator groups and the timber industry have been very busy suggesting management plans that primarily benefit local economies and desires, an outpouring of support for continued federal management of the 2.4 million acre Flathead National Forest from across the nation once again reminds us that these are lands and resources owned by all 323 million Americans, not just a handful of local interests or politicians.

In the recently closed public comment period on the Flathead National Forest’s draft environmental impact statement and draft revised forest plan, a rather astounding 34,409 comments were submitted by members of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Watch and WildEarth Guardians urging the management of all remaining roadless lands as wilderness to protect wildlife, water and recovery of imperiled species such as the grizzly bear, lynx, bull trout and wolverine.

To be sure, thousands of those comments were submitted as suggested by the organizations who alerted their members to the opportunity to help steer the future direction of the national forest lands. But many were also personalized statements of support for maintaining and enhancing protection for the vital – and increasingly rare – still intact ecosystems of the Northern Rockies.

The concerns of the commenters are certainly not new. Road-building for oil and gas exploration and development, logging and recreation tops the list due to the well-documented impacts of roads and the increasing number of humans pushing ever further into the remaining roadless lands.

Just as roads have been shown to increase grizzly bear mortality due to conflicts with humans, a new study coming out of the University of Alberta shows that elk – easily the most highly prized wildlife in Montana – tend to assiduously avoid roaded areas.

The study’s conclusions were that: “Elk responded to roads as they would natural predation risk. Elk selected areas farther from roads at all times of day with avoidance being greatest during twilight. In addition, elk sought cover and moved more when in the vicinity of roads. Consequently, any new road construction or increases in existing road-use intensity would have detrimental effects on migratory elk populations by restricting space-use.

Energy development is transforming landscapes in western North America with the proliferation of roads, which I show is having substantial and multifaceted negative effects on elk behavior across multiple scales.” That’s no surprise to elk hunters here, many of whom will tell you the best way to find elk is to park the rig and start walking away from the road.

Meanwhile, the Lake County Conservation District is surveying people to determine whether there is local support for turning over some 60,000 acres of national forest in the Swan Valley to state management for logging for the next 100 years.

It’s strange to see a government agency whose “funding for operations comes from a small tax levied on real property within the boundaries of the conservation district” spending funds on this exercise when, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), “the majority of conservation district levies generate under $25,000 in revenue. This funding is inadequate to meet the goals of conservation districts…”

It’s equally strange for a conservation district to step into the political arena rather than concentrate on its mission, which is “to carry out programs that conserve soil and water, protect streams and rivers, improve soil health, as well as improve wildlife habitat, improve the tax base, and protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the state.”

Obviously there’s nothing in that mission statement to suggest taking over management of federal lands. Moreover, the many polls regarding the possible state takeover of federal lands consistently show the public far prefers the lands stay in federal management.

There’s no denying the effort by politicians at the federal, state, and local level for what they call “better management” of federal lands. Unfortunately, the inclination is to “manage” for resource extraction to fuel local economies rather than stewardship over the broad range of forest values and their long-term health.

With a Donald  Trump presidency and a Republican Congress dominated by corporate interests, we can expect to see more attempts to dish out public resources for private profit. But as the recent comments on the Flathead Forest Plan show, the public wants its lands protected, not ripped or roaded – and it’s risky business for politicians to ignore such strong public sentiment.

This column originally ran in the Missoulian.

More articles by:

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Cesar Chelala
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics