I'd like to respond to Daphne Herling, president of the Montana Wilderness Association (see "Letters," Feb. 12, 2009). In the 40-plus years I've walked or skied on miles of wilderness and backcountry trails, I don't ever recall a nearby owl telling me, "Gee, Steve, wouldn't these places all be better, wouldn't we all be happier if we could just open them up a little to loggers, miners, ATV riders, snowmobilers and more federal agency roads? I mean, weren't we too greedy when we gave these areas protective designations? Shouldn't we embrace the 'now-popular' quid pro quo approach and share our great places with those of disparate interests?"
Nope, never one deep hoot of that kind. Owls and I both know their habitat security and the Wilderness Act will be toast if we bend the fiber supporting the act. There are already precious few places protected from roads and the whine of greedy engines.
A few things come to mind here, Daphne. MWA has not been authorized by anyone to cut backroom deals with the U.S. Forest Service, loggers or the off-road vehicle community on public lands. These lands are owned by all Americans, not MWA. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge deal left the public out of it. No public involvement, no NEPA. Janine Blaeloch and Katie Fite wrote, "These deals create a quid pro quo situation wherein wilderness protection is essentially 'paid for' with balancing provisions in the same piece of legislation that facilitate development, privatization and intensified land use—even in the very 'wilderness' set aside in the deals. If this trend continues, the days of the stand-alone wilderness bill, along with the strict observance of the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, may become relics of the past."
As U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., so astutely said, "Wilderness designations should not be the result of a quid pro quo. They should rise or fall on their own merits. We all understand that compromise is part of the legislative process, yet at the same time, I would submit that wilderness is not for sale. Simply put, I believe we should not seek the lowest common denominator when it comes to wilderness and saddle a wilderness designation with exceptions, exclusions and exemptions."
MWA needs to stop backroom dealing with public lands and get serious about a real wilderness bill. It's been more than 20 years since MWA hit pay dirt the old-fashioned way, without holding hands and singing "Kumbayah." The Wilderness Act was not designed as a way to provide jobs for road builders, loggers and miners, or playgrounds for ATV riders and snowmobilers. Quid pro quo wilderness rewards this traditional power base by forcing wilderness to tag along with various development schemes and it's loser-out for the public. Don't trade away our lands to feather MWA's very spare nest.
Thanks to Andy Smetanka for his enthusiastic review of Harrod Blank's new film about art cars, Automorphosis, one of the films screening at this year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (see cover story, February 12, 2009).
In the review, Andy mentions the memorable evening, in 1993, when he watched outdoor movies at an ice cream parlor. I was the cinema man on the bicycle, hosting outdoor screenings in my first of many cross-country tours. Blank's film, Wild Wheels, was certainly the star of my free film festival.
My traveling film festival is called Highway Cinema (www.Highway Cinema.homestead.com) and has presented more than 700 free screenings in the United States, Mexico and Canada. After Automorphosis has its tour of film festivals and cinemas, Highway Cinema will once again roll (or row, depending on if it's by land or by sea), with Blank's latest film in tow. Blank's art car film is truly a brilliant exploration into the world of art, cars and the hearts and minds of the people who create art cars.
Please make note of one error: The director of Oh My God! It's Harrod Blank, as well the excellent soundman, et al, for Blank's films, is named David Silberberg. Please let your readers know this.
Best wishes to all of the filmmakers, film fest staff and appreciative audiences at this year's Big Sky Doc Fest!
I appreciate Matthew Koehler's contribution to "Writers on the Range" (see "Prescribed Burn," Feb. 5, 2009). It seems Koehler has toned down his rhetoric, coinciding with most of industrial timber leaving the area. Past newsletters from the WildWest Institute, Koehler's organization, have stressed collaboration between the institute and communities in the region to achieve thinning objectives in a responsible way. Then the local newspapers report on the WildWest Institute's litigious tendencies; court judgments seem to be appealed over and over.
Speaking for myself, I am glad organizations like the WildWest Institute exist. Surely such a growth-obsessed and powerful force as big timber can stand for counterbalances like Koehler's organization as a voice of reason. I appreciate Koehler et al's efforts to counter such misguided timber sales as in a recent and irregular burn. But too many times in the past have I wondered whether organizations like WildWest take advantage of Equal Access to Justice (where environmental groups have legal fees paid for) in the name of personal vendettas.
As a timber professional (or former professional at this point), environmentalist and general moderate, Koehler's antics have left me wondering where his personal agenda and ego lie. I'm glad Koehler has gained such a holistic view through hunting, and I'm glad he has the perspective to realize that the rifle and the roads he uses to hunt were produced through logging, mining and even a little drilling.
The good news is most of industrial-scale logging is going or gone. And it has taken with it a global market economy that was more like mining than renewable resource harvest. The bad news is that same equipment will no longer be operating, and no longer be available for firefighting infrastructure where people live and work. Never mind the lost jobs—the rare high paying, blue collar jobs so crucial to the uneducated. I think Koehler's point for his recent article was that we must recognize where to apply our politically driven logging. Point well taken.
So in light of all the economic turmoil, I'm glad we can all move on from the big business versus obstructionist conflicts that have held us back for so long. Now the burden is to find true value-added uses for trees previously considered "junk," so that we can reap economic benefit while we restore overcrowded forests. Now is a golden opportunity for such grassroots organizations as Koehler's to take a deep breath and truly collaborate with local communities and cottage industry. Human interaction has been part of nature for quite some time now, and now is the time to direct our activities in a holistic way.