There’s plenty to disagree about in the Flathead Valley, and its residents often do so fervently, be it in bars or on the letters to the editor page. But all that was put aside, at least for half an hour, for a promotional PBS photo shoot at Flathead Valley Community College on Mon., July 12.

Director and Executive Producer Patrice O’Neill has been filming in the Flathead for the past two years, and will air the resulting documentary, The Fire Next Time: A Not in Our Town Special, on PBS in the fall. The subject: conflict in the Flathead.

“This place is growing so quickly,” O’Neill said. “It’s beautiful land and people want to protect it, but there are really different points of view about how to do that.”

From hippies to loggers to developers to law enforcement, those divergent points of view converged on the parking lot of Flathead Valley Community College on Mon., July 12, to take part in the shoot. “What you’re doing by being here is saying, in this moment, we agree to disagree, and that’s a wonderful thing for the United States to see,” O’Neill said to the approximately 200 people gathered.

Kalispell Mayor Pamela Kennedy told the audience, “Even with controversy, we can be good neighbors.”

The issue most commonly invoked as divisive was growth.

Judy DeGregorio, a part-time Kalispell resident for 10 years, said, “People are trying to keep what brought them here in the first place, but it also can’t be, ‘Once I’m here, we’ll shut the door and not let anyone else in.’”

Eventually, New Orleans-based photographer Jackson Hill got the crowd arranged to his liking, and then told residents to drape an arm around their neighbor, before clicking away.

“What if we don’t like ’em?” one man called out from the crowd with a laugh.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jackson responded.

And for an all-too-brief half-hour, it didn’t.

•••

So it’s official (like it wasn’t already so obvious you could cry): The Bush administration doesn’t give a flying frog about the environmental vote. Said sad fact was proved (again) on Monday, July 12, when Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman went to Boise, Idaho, to announced an amendment to the Roadless Rule that seems very much, on the face of it, like a pass-the-buck hand-off of back-burnered federal responsibilities to the unmandated whim of regional non-governance—or state’s rights, if you prefer.

The Roadless Rule, a wildly popular Clinton-era wildland-protection initiative with 95 percent support from the 2.5 million citizens who bothered to comment, will soon (after a 60-day comment period starting now, and 18 months under an interim rule) be amended to the effect that governors may ask for roadless protections if they want them (which they don’t), and Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey—a former timber industry lobbyist—may or may not grant such protections (which he won’t). Otherwise, if no governors bother, as seems likely, the Roadless Rule is effectively rendered moot.

The amendment matters in Montana, where 11.9 percent of the landscape, including Wilderness Areas, remains, for the moment, in roadless condition.

But Montana matters, too, in that we have a lot of roadless to lose, and chest-thumpingly powerful politicians to see that our will is heeded…right? And if all else fails, we can always vote. John Kerry has taken the position that he would reinstate all roadless areas. Hell, even the Bush administration promised back in 2001 to uphold Clinton’s Roadless Rule. You can trust the promises of politicians…right?

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