No Done Deal

By Beacon Staff

I was going to go off on a tear about the ACLU, singing, Hanukkah, statues, retail-establishment customer-service greeting protocols – nah. Just have yourself an awesome Merry Christmas, okay? And a prosperous, healthy, felicitous Happy New Year while we’re at it.
OK, now that the warm fuzzies are out of the way, here’s some more warm fuzz. You’ve seen the recent news in every Flathead newspaper about the Whitefish Range Partnership (WRP) agreement for the North Fork – featured right here in the Beacon as “After the Timber Wars.” You know, “diverse stakeholders” singing Kumbaya?

Noted environmentalist Keith Hammer quickly sent out a letter castigating the Forest Service for an “utter lack of objectivity and fairness when it comes to public input,” based on Flathead Forest Supervisor Chip Weber’s statement that the WRP might be “very close” to what the final version of the new Forest Plan will be like.

Now, Mr. Hammer is noted for, among other things, proposing dismantling the Hungry Horse Dam – selling souvenir chunks of concrete to pay for the dynamite, of course. Today, he promotes the slightly more moderate Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act – basically, the Earth First wilderness bill. Since 1991, various versions have been floated, and quickly sunk in Congress: 23 million acres of wilderness in five states; 7 million acres in Montana, specifically 247,000 acres on the Flathead National Forest alone, plus 105,000 acres atop the Upper Whitefish range – just a hair less extreme than prior versions aiming to make all Northforkistan into the Flathead National Park and Preserve.

Like most other zombie legislation, each Congress always seems to have a few zombie legislators willing to keep it “alive” – most recently Carolyn Maloney (D-East Side Manhattan/Brooklyn/Queens, split by the East Wild and Scenic River).
But seriously, if one wants to reach a “collaborative” agreement, would one invite Mr. Hammer?

Still, Mr. Hammer hit the nail right on the head when he ragged on WRP being, as Weber told the Beacon’s Tristan Scott, “first out of the gate.”

For environmental groups Headwaters Montana and National Parks Conservation Association (and their shadowy fiscal sponsors), the North Fork is almost certainly their highest Montana “conservation priority.” If your aim is star treatment in the upcoming Flathead National Forest planning process, then inviting a group of very carefully selected participants to “collaborate” makes perfect sense.

A little further up the ridge, the Kootenai National Forest set up the Galton Stakeholders Collaborative to bicker over the Galton Area travel plan, prescribed burns and urban interface. Similar to WRP, participants (including Headwaters) committed last March to a charter allowing a limited number of voting members, acting on consensus with the understanding that the purpose was to make recommendations only on agreed issues.

Unlike the invitation-only WRP process, the Galton effort was open to anyone willing to participate according to the charter.

Well, guess what? At the June 6 Galton meeting, pro facilitator Rae Lynn Hayes announced to the group that Headwaters Montana (Edwin Fields and Dave Hadden) had submitted their resignation from the GSC. After that, so did Amy Robinson of Montana Wilderness Association, and Jennifer Miller of the national Wilderness Society. According to meeting minutes, Miller felt the effort wasn’t “addressing The Wilderness Society issues.” The remaining Galton group reached consensus, recommending no wilderness on the Tobacco side of the Whitefish Range.

Pardon me if I point out that the professional wilderness advocates here seem to be rather, um, choosy – if collaboration is working for them, it’s in all the papers. If it’s not working, they’re gone, off to other efforts and avenues of approach. In the case of the Kootenai, you should visit the forest website and look at the objection letters posted to see how Headwaters and its allies really feel – no Kumbaya, that’s for sure. One money quote, from Dave Hadden: “The so-called ‘Timber Wars’ should be over.”

So, despite all the happy talk about the Whitefish Range Partnership agreement, it nonetheless is no more than a starting point in the larger Flathead National Forest Planning process. Some of WRP is good, some stinks, but none is set in stone.

Merry Christmas!

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