Don’t forget logging 

Rapid growth in the Flathead has been a perennial issue for local city and county governments for years, with consensus of any sort hard to come by. Still, that hasn’t stopped Flathead on the Move, sponsored in part by the University of Montana’s Center for the Rocky Mountain West, from trying to take the debate to the streets. On Thursday, Nov. 4, “the streets” meant the WestCoast Hotel in Kalispell, where about 50 people attended the second Flathead on the Move public forum.

Almost half of that number participated in a breakout group on growth in the Flathead. Stephanie Wallace, client services manager for Kalispell’s Jobs Now, had the unenviable task of facilitating a divided group in hopes of achieving a goal set forth at the first forum in October: initialing “community action on priority issues.”

“We’re focusing on action today, not necessarily the reasons,” Wallace said.

“All this comes down to economic development versus quality of life,” said Whitefish resident and participant Joe Carbonari. “That’s why we’re talking about a growth policy.”

That was the idea, anywhow. However, the discussion quickly shifted from growth to the well-trodden topic of whether the Flathead’s future economy should be driven by timber harvesting on Flathead National Forest land or a push for further tourism and recreation. That agenda-shift was prompted by Montanans for Multiple Use (MMU) President Fred Hodgeboom.

“Groups like this are going to have to advocate for more management of these national forest lands,” said Hodgebloom, seemingly attempting to position Flathead on the Move under MMU’s agenda umbrella.

“I thought we were going to come up with three growth action steps,” said Kalispell participant Peter Saunders, after extended discussion with no such steps in sight. “We’re way off course.” One thing the group did agree on was that another group needs to be created to study growth issues further—a far cry from the desired action plan.

No one ever said direct democracy was tidy.

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