Opinion

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Guest Column

The Real Measure for a Conservation Group

There’s nothing wrong with sitting down to discuss common interests

The recent commentary on community collaboratives that was signed by a number of timber company representatives and foresters along with the Montana Wilderness Association promotes myths instead of truth with regards to forestry issues in western Montana. As a former MWA board member, it is particularly disturbing to see the organization championing frivolous timber sales that cost taxpayers money and destroy forest ecosystems. It appears the MWA is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome

Among other things, the commentary says that people are frustrated when lawyers and judges trump local professional land managers. What the MWA doesn’t acknowledge is that no one wins a lawsuit unless there is a clear violation of rules and laws. Apparently the MWA is supporting illegal actions on our national forests.

Indeed, one can be thankful that at least some conservation organizations see their role as protecting the taxpayer purse strings and the land from money-losing timber sales and destructive forest practices instead of lining the pockets of private timber companies.

Their commentary champions collaboratives as “democracy” but fails to note that the vast majority of people and interests do not get to participate. While paid foresters and lobbyist for timber companies can attend the numerous meetings that are held during work week days, most people are not represented, particularly the majority of Americans who own these lands – a fact that the MWA apparently does not acknowledge.

Furthermore, the MWA supports the timber industry propaganda about thinning.

The bulk of the plant communities burned in Montana are high-elevation forests dominated by lodgepole pine, fir and spruce. These forests naturally burn infrequently in high severity fires often a hundred of years apart. These forests are neither out of their historic condition and are perfectly healthy. Fire in these ecosystems are driven by climate/weather, not fuels. Therefore, logging cannot preclude blazes in these forests.

Large fires only occur when there are severe fire weather conditions of high temperatures, low humidity, drought and most importantly high winds. Put those combinations together with an ignition source and you have unstoppable fires. The overwhelming conclusion of numerous scientific reviews is that under severe fire weather, thinning has no effect on fire spread. But you won’t get that information from the MWA.

Even more importantly large severe fires are ecologically important. Indeed, there are numerous wildlife species that live in mortal fear of green forests because they are highly dependent on the periodic input of snags and down wood that is created by large wildfires. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the MWA to mention this.

Finally, logging is not benign. Logging roads spread sediment into streams affecting fish. They help to spread weeds. Logging removes biomass and down wood important for habitat. Logging removes the carbon that is stored in forests and even burnt forests store more carbon than logged forest sites. Logging disturbs sensitive wildlife like grizzly and elk. And finally logging can scar scenic values. But you will never see the MWA mention any of these associated and cumulative impacts.

It seems the MWA measurement of success is whether it can have a beer with timber and other former foes. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down to discuss common interests. But the real measure for a conservation group should be the wildlife habitat and wildlands it has saved. By this measure, the MWA is failing miserably. It’s time for the MWA to relinquish its mantle as a wildlands advocate and admit it has been captured by the timber industry. Patty Hearst would understand.

George Wuerthner is a former MWA board member, an ecologist and an author of 38 books including “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.”