July Aug, 2003






A Time For Action

Bruce Vincent, Logger and President of Communities for the Great Northwest, Alliance for America Foundation and League of Rural Voters

As a fourth generation Montanan and a third generation practical applicator of academic forest management theory (logger), I live in Montana for two environmental reasons. The natural environment of clean air, clean water, abundant wildlife and beautiful treeshrouded mountains and the cultural environment of hard working, hard playing, community-oriented, family-oriented, school-oriented people of our rural resource managing area. It is now clear that it is the political environment which will dictate the health of the natural and cultural environment I love. The last 15 years of destructive, sometimes violent debate over our forests has led us to a political crossroads in which neither nice words, nor flowing rhetoric from our elected officials will help. We need action. Political action. Now.

We knew we needed action in May of 1988 when 303 loaded logging trucks landed in Darby, Montana in the Great Northwest Log Haul, in August of 1988 in Grants Pass with over 1200 logging trucks in the Silver Fire Roundup, and in 1991 when we circled the capitol building with logging trucks in Phoenix. Each time we gathered because systematic abuse of well-intended public involvement policy of the forest service was threatening the management and ultimately the health of the forests of the West. As we feared, in 2000 the Bitterroot forest burned and in 2002 Southern Oregon and Central Arizona enjoyed the largest fires in their states’ histories.

This pattern will repeat itself until all 192,000,000 acres of overstocked, diseased, dead and dying national forestlands and those private lands adjacent to them burn. These fires are fueled by a buildup of materials after years of fire suppression and failure to replace the fires with thinning. We can pretend the fuel buildup does not exist, but reality is the ultimate dictator and our watersheds, our endangered species habitat, our game habitat, our view sheds, our recreation areas, our air sheds and our hopes of leaving a healthy forest for future generations are all paying the price of that pretending.

Those of us who live in the combat zone of this issue know what needs to be done – including mechanical removal of decades of fuel buildup in a traveling mosaic that minimizes the chances that natural fire occurrences will generate catastrophically huge, catastrophically hot fire. This removal, followed by prescribed, cool, ground-hugging fires will benefit our ecosystems. While it is physically possible to restore the health of the forests of our nation, the real question is whether or not it is politically possible. In 2003, I think that it is possible.

The American public is not stupid. The truth about our forest realities is becoming clear to them with each tragic loss of forest. In addition, thousands of converts to reality have been found in the last two years as they stand upon the roofs of their million dollar homes wielding $6 hoses and watching their million dollar view shed burn up their driveway.

However, it is going to take elected body leadership and a constituency applauding that leadership to restore common sense forest management processes.

Last summer the President announced his intent to lead on this issue and introduced the bipartisan Healthy Forests Initiative which would:

Strengthen the ability of local managers to implement common sense forest health restoration programs.

Modernize and expedite our appeals and legal framework.

Direct the court system to analyze the long and short term impacts of ‘doing nothing’ when considering injunctive relief.

Recognize that much of the forest health problem lies beyond the Wildland Urban Interface.

Encourage the study of and development of markets for the biomass that will result from forest thinning.

America, tired of watching forestry unfold in 500,000- acre swaths of fire and smoke across the western landscape, tired of watching the disease and insect infestations explode off of public lands and into their private forest treasures, tired of arguing about wildlife habitat and then watching such habitat be mismanaged into oblivion, tired of watching their clean water sources get vaporized, is ready for this new leadership. Those of us who live in the forests being debated must now do more than hold the President and his allies to their promise of doing something – we must help them. We must take one hour out of each busy week this fall and contact our elected officials by phone, fax or e-mail. We must tell them that it is the time to act; we will support them in their courage if they do act, and we will hold them accountable if they do not. It is now or never for our forests and our forest families. For information you can use on this issue, contact the Evergreen Foundation at (406) 837-1386 or at www.evergreenmagazine.com , or contact the healthy forests initiative campaign at www.landsense.us.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004