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A Dangerous Precedent for America’s Public Lands

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 507) was presented to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week.

The origin of the definition of stewardship is foundational to understanding that none of us are owners of God’s creation (nature). Proper care for all that exists in nature should not be confused with the pursuit of money and profit. In other words, destroying forests for the sole monetary benefit of the local sawmill in Seeley Lake utterly perverts the meaning of stewardship.

Don’t be fooled by the artful use of words meant to deceive and confuse unsuspecting commoners. Unfortunately, Sen. Tester has an illustrious track record of talking about ecological protection but failing to act when he’s most needed. Remember, this is an election year.

Supplying merchantable logs to the local sawmill has been the No. 1 priority of the Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative since its inception. “Everyone who collaborates does so with the expectation they will get something out of it,” said Pyramid Mountain Lumber Chief Operating Officer Loren Rose. “We got logs on trucks. Our conservation partners got very little out of this Southwest Crown of the Continent work. But they supported it wholeheartedly.”

Tester’s fact sheet on S. 507 reads: “Sustainable timber harvest was a cornerstone of the BCSP, which established the Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative.”

Tester brought bags full of federal dollars to fund the collaborative to undertake its so-called “restoration” work. S. 507 does not define restoration, but if past is prologue, restoration means more commercial roadbuilding, logging and thinning (“high-grading”).

These are not just any forests, they are some of the most ecologically sensitive forests in the Lower 48.

Tester claims that since 2009, he has secured “$19 million in federal funding to implement much of the restoration and timber harvest originally designated in the Upper Blackfoot-Clearwater Valley agreement.” According to Tester, these “investments created and sustained more than 100 jobs and spurred $33 million in new investment into the local economy.”

One might wonder how long that money can sustain those 100 jobs without more Sumo-sized cash infusions. How long can federal welfare checks keep the local “timber economy” from going the way of Champion International, Plum Creek Timber Co., Stimson and Smurfit-Stone in Frenchtown? No discussion? Well, “not very long” is the correct answer.

Gamblers who habitually lose big are always invited back to play again. It’s so easy to dole out Federal Reserve notes when it’s someone else’s money being thrown away for purely political purposes. Make no mistake, government no longer regulates to prevent crimes against nature, it is facilitator, protector and enforcer in the corporate interest.

Collaborators act as junior partners, manning the notebooks in exchange for scraps that might be thrown their way after the “big dogs” have finished gorging themselves.

Where, under the many layers of deceit and deception, does that leave the public interest?

Collaboration, by definition, operates in opposition to open, public participation. The deck is stacked in favor of commercial commodity production.

Tester’s bill sets a terrible precedent by subverting long-standing public-interest goals of sustaining and defending clean water, wild trout and wildlife habitat and wilderness.

This kind of Fabian-socialist balkanization is part and parcel of many authoritarian, divide-and-conquer strategies. Ba’ath Party regimes in Iraq and Syria are examples of government-planned societies in the Arab world. This kind of government social engineering is wrong for Montana.

Warning, it can happen here. I urge everyone to read Tester’s bill. “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” — Albert Einstein

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Steve Kelly is a an artist and serves as a member of the board of directors of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.  

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