6 Dec 2007, 8:50pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

The Big Sky Coalition

There is a new environmental organization in Montana, the Big Sky Coalition. Founded by residents of Darby, Hamilton, and other communities near the Bitterroot National Forest, the Big Sky Coalition describes itself as “environmentalists with common sense.”

In their own words, from the BSC website [here]:

Big Sky Coalition represents a diverse group of Montanans who believe that current forest management policies are resulting in annual catastrophic fires. These fires present a negative impact on the health and economic interest of Montana citizens.

Representing what we believe to be a silent majority of Montanans with common sense, we hope to become a unified voice of reason that will provide a more balanced approach to environmental issues. We are prepared to be your advocate and fight for your rights!

Our mission is to work with federal and state agencies to bring about changes in the current fire management program.

A recent meeting hosted by the BSC in Hamilton drew 650 people. The Clark Fork Chronicle reported [here] that “the crowd was overwhelmingly in support of increased logging on the national forests as a way to mitigate catastrophic wildfires.”

Organizer Sonny LaSalle explained, “This is just not the timber industry saying, ‘We need more logs.’ This is the common everyday citizen saying, ‘I’m tired of the situation the way it is. It’s only going to get worse and we want something done.’ We believe there is something that can be done, and that the silent majority needs to become the vocal majority.”

That silent majority has felt disenfranchised and helpless, he said, watching from the sidelines while the courts and Forest Service interact only with litigants.

“We in the Coalition honestly believe there are things we can do, and the way we can do it is by speaking with one large voice to our elected officials at the state and the national levels. Then we can get some changes that need to be made. That takes a lot of people making as much noise as possible so the elected officials know this is just not one or two folks,” he said.

The Bitterroot and other Montana (and Idaho) National Forests were raked by megafires last summer, the worst fire season in the region since 1910. Indeed, the Great Fires of 1910 gave rise to millions of acres of lodgepole pines that are 90-ish today. Lodgepole pine does not live much beyond 100, and the stands of today are moribund thickets packed with beetle-kill that present a regional fire hazard unprecedented in history.

And the US Forest Service has proved themselves unable to deal with the situation. Part of the problem is a lack of leadership and direction from Congress. The Big Sky Coalition hopes to spur Congress into action.

The BSC is new, just a couple of months old, but they are already having an impact. Eco-litigious, anti-forest groups such as the WildWest Institute (formerly the Native Forest Network) have attacked the BSC from inception. However, the Native Forest Network filed 236 timber sale appeals from 1997 through 2002, according to a 2003 study by Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute, making it difficult for that lawyered-up, sue-happy group to deny their longstanding obstruction and sabotage of forests.

The BSC holds promise. It’s grassroots, political, and the members are angry at the destruction of their local economies and landscapes. Congress should pay heed.

Rural citizens are VERY UNHAPPY with Congressional incineration of America’s forests. Moreover, at least 85 percent of all citizens, rural and urban, are in favor of active management to save our National Forests, according to polls.

Perhaps the Big Sky Coalition can get through to a deaf, dumb, and blind Congress, and spur them into some common sense. We hope so. SOS Forests kudos to the Big Sky Coalition, and best wishes for their every success.



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