A crazy thing is happening in the western United States these days. The wide open spaces don’t seem so wide anymore. From Nevada to Montana, extremists on both sides of the environmental debate are making life difficult for the majority of us who simply want clean air and water, healthy forest and wildlife populations. And for federal and state employees who are under oath to uphold the laws of the land, the controversy can be life-threatening.
Gloria Flora knows this first-hand. The former supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest resigned in the face of overt threats and incivility stemming in part from a simple road closure decision, and to call attention to the loss of democratic process caused by such extremist behavior and violence. Flora spoke last week to crowds in Kalispell, Hamilton, and Helena. Her speeches were sponsored by the Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Flora does not allege that there were prosecutable threats against her. “However, in the last five years there have been bombings and very serious threats within Nevada.” Opponents to her decisions have rallied to the cry of “Remember Waco.”
“I remind you,” she said, “The last time someone ‘remembered Waco,’ over 180 people lost their lives in Oklahoma City.” The bottom line, she maintains, is taking the threats seriously and protecting employees from possible harm.
Environmental degradation, national and global trends force changes in the way westerners can use the land, she suggested. People react to loss of traditional uses and some blame government employees for those changes.
But an all-pervasive force of change even more to blame seems to be technology. For example, Flora cited a 40 percent loss of timber-related jobs during the same years that timber harvest climbed from 4 to 12 billion board feet annually, due to greater technological efficiency. “Technology has been a godsend and a curse,” she said.
Such changes promote frustration in people’s lives, she notes. “When frustrations grow, dialogue becomes uncivil ... and an unsavory element is attracted to the fray like sharks to the smell of blood,” she said.
“Defeating each other will not bring about solutions,” she concluded. “Nor will it project to the rest of the nation that the people in the West ... can be trusted to make good choices and thereby deserve greater local control.”