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Salvage Logging

Most of the 160,000-acre Rice Ridge fire burned on wilderness or inventoried roadless designated lands that are off limits to logging, but the U.S. Forest Service did identify 4,838 acres where salvage could occur.


Getting between a politician and the politician’s promise of jobs can be about as risky as getting between the proverbial mother bear and her cubs. We’ve been seeing some of this in Montana politics, with one politician going so far as warning us all about environmental extremists who don’t want even one tree cut.

I don’t recall which one of them came up with that one, but our entire congressional delegation has been hitting the panic button lately, warning against the alleged extremists standing in the way of, ultimately, jobs.

It’s a tempest in a teapot, a needless and unfortunate attack. The delegation can calm down any day now, because there will be logging, and it falls into the everybody-knows-it category. Never mind whether there should be logging, or must be logging, or Montanans who absolutely abhor logging, there’s been logging all along, and there’s going to be more of it. Why?

A basic premise of logging is that businesses and families need shelter from the likes of wind and rain, and that premise is all it’s going to take to keep logging going for some while to come and, with the logging, jobs — so long as there’s enough forest to support them.

There’s some necessary sorting out of how much, how fast, and over how much of the state’s forests at the same time, but we can all be very sure that there’s a lot more than one tree gonna get cut in Montana.

Meanwhile, wilderness. Here too, there’s been some talk of wilderness and extremists, in the same sentence.

Now, I’m not entirely sure how to define environmental extremism. But Montana may have its own best example of it.

When I open my copy of John Hutchens’ "One Man’s Montana" and get to page 207, I see none other than Charlie Russell quoted, from an invited and presumably well attended public speech in Great Falls: “I have been called a pioneer. In my book a pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the wild meat, grazes off all the grass, plows the roots up, and strings ten million miles of wire. A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization.”

Russell wasn’t done. He added, “I wish to God that this country was just like it was when I first saw it and none of you folks were here at all."

Russell lost that one big. So had the tribes, before his day. To the extent this has been a losing streak, it’s had a pretty long run.

Because Montana has lost lots of wilderness even since Russell’s times, it’s hard for me to think that there’s anything so extreme about wanting to keep the fragments we have left.

Let’s get the last of it designated. Life will go on. Logging will go on. The delegation has apparently had a hard time admitting to anyone that they know it.

Lance Olsen was born in Great Falls, spent time on a cow-hay-grain outfit just west of the Highwood Mountains, hunted sharptail grouse and mule deer, taught brain physiology, took a turn in bear conservation, and currently runs a restricted climate listserv for scientists and staff of agencies and conservation groups.

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