No Balance in Daines’ ‘Forest Reform’

Sen. Steve Daines clearly has confused the Forest Service with the local Chamber of Commerce

By Brian Peck

Recently, papers in Northwest Montana have carried articles about Sen. Steve Daines trumpeting the need for “forest reform” and a “balance” between natural resource protection and resource extraction.

But for Daines and much of the conservative right wing, the only “balance” they’re after is a balance between industrial logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and the motorized/mechanized exploitation of public lands for private profit. Lost in the shuffle are inconvenient things like clean water and air and intact wildlife habitat.

One need look no further than Daines’ words to see where he’s coming from and it isn’t healthy forest landscapes based on ecologically sustainable management. Rather, his idea of reform and balance include: “improve forest ‘output’; create economic opportunities; good paying jobs in our timber industry; greater state authority; improved recreational access; and revenue for schools” – formerly known as “Clearcuts For Kids.”

Daines clearly has confused the Forest Service with the local Chamber of Commerce, and sees the nation’s public lands as little more than commodity conveyor belts, and its forests as 2X4’s in waiting. And the “reform” they have in mind is nothing less than the privatization of the public’s lands for the private profit of industry.

If Daines and his industry accomplices were truly interested in ecological, as well as economic, sustainability when they talked about “sustainable timber harvests,” there would be room for discussion. Unfortunately, their real priority remains what it has always been – “Getting Out the Cut” and treating the nation’s forests like tree farms.

Daines would have us believe that the problem is environmental groups who file lawsuits over timber sales, and the Equal Access to Justice Act that lets them recover legal fees when the Forest Service is caught breaking the law. Nonsense. Blaming environmental groups for blowing the whistle on a lawless Forest Service is like blaming Paul Revere for warning that “The British Are Coming.”

And the Equal Access to Justice Act was written for every American who dares to challenge bad decisions by their federal government, but fears being overwhelmed by its vast battery of lawyers funded by our tax dollars. The Act levels the playing field for “We the People” so we don’t have to “pay up or shut up” when faced with an overreaching government. Daines would “reform” the Act so you and I would have to pay up front before challenging the Feds.

If Daines is truly interested in reforming the process, lowering lawsuits, and encouraging sustainable timber harvests it’s pretty simple – join environmentalists in demanding that the Forest Service “Follow the Science and Obey the Law” on every project. But Daines won’t do that because his real goal is harvesting trees, and harvesting votes from a gullible public.

Brian Peck lives in Columbia Falls.