The scene at last week’s Forest Service travel plan meeting in Darby gave conservationists a lot to think about this week, as they saw an unruly mob effectively shut down a public discussion.
A 50-person meeting hall crammed with over 200 people forced participants to stand along the sides and back of the room. The meeting became heated quickly, many raised their hands to speak, and comments continued for some two hours until one local woman was finally recognized and given the floor.
There was no podium, so she stood up while surrounded by some of the room’s most aggressive advocates for off-road vehicle use. Despite seeing numerous speakers ridiculed and taunted, she ventured to talk without preparing any notes, and spoke in favor of public lands and conservation. Though mild mannered and calm, she stumbled at times as a constant barrage of laughter, heckling, and spontaneous shouting threw her off.
She occasionally wrung her hands to shake off the nerves, but moved forward with her statement. Ginny Tribe, the professional facilitator contracted to moderate the meeting tried unsuccessfully to quiet the heckling.
But the mob at the back of the room wouldn’t back off at all. The speaker was just going on too long for some.
“Put a bullet in her head,” said a younger man seated among a thick crowd.
“Did you just say, ‘Put a bullet in her head’?” asked Gary Milner, a bystander.
“Yeah…You’re all just a bunch of fucking liberals,” the man replied.
“Did you hear this? Can you write this down?” Milner asked a nearby Forest Service official.
“What is your name, sir?” one of them asked.
“Will Blocker,” the man replied, as the official jotted down the notes.
Over 20 bystanders overheard the exchange, and the meeting continued—with the heckling unabated.
In the following days, environmental groups, blogs, and newspapers reacted to the event.
Dan Thompson of the Ravalli County Off-Road Users Association told the Associated Press he regretted “the inappropriate behavior of a few people.”
Area environmentalists, however, saw things much differently. Jim Miller, president of Friends of the Bitterroot, said, “It was not a few bad apples. It was several bushels.”