Roadless Rhetoric II 

Politicians join in on the pro-road double-talk

I pine for the good old days, when Conrad Burns said straight up that Montanans shouldn’t get any more wilderness and called environmentalists draft-dodgers. This straight-talking faded in the early 1990s, then passed away with Burns’ introduction of a bill to gut Montana’s backcountry entitled “The Montana Jobs Security and Land Protection Act.” Since then, albeit with limited success, Burns has cloaked his desire to road, log, mine, and ATV the state’s last backcountry in dubious science, hypocritical complaints about “process,” and euphemism.

Regrettably, like food-yielding behavior in the monkey cage, Burns’ anti-environmental allies have now learned to imitate his “false colors” strategy.

Three weeks ago, for example, Marc Racicot engaged in “I’m not opposed” opposition to conservation that Burns must have been proud of. Having already sued (unsuccessfully) to delay the national forest roadless initiative (presumably leaving final decisions in the hands of the next presidential administration), Racicot testified before Congress on the initiative as a paragon of reason and moderation—a conservationist: “We have not passed judgment regarding the propriety of including or not including any particular lands within the roadless initiative under consideration by the Forest Service. In fact, we believe there are areas where roads should not be built.”

But Racicot also advised Congress that roadless areas “need management, they need to be cared for, they need stewardship. This is precisely what we do on state forests with great success.” Leaving aside the intuitively—and demonstrably—inaccurate assertion that wild forests are somehow improved by “management,” let me translate this into plain English: “We should log Montana’s roadless areas, as the state does its land, to preset, Soviet-style harvest quotas.”

To further disguise his anti-conservation policy, Racicot concocted complaints about the Forest Service’s rulemaking process. For example, he bleated that state lands—and thus school funding—might be affected by the roadless initiative. But Montana’s Attorney General had previously advised Racicot that “it is a basic rule of law that an administrative agency such as the Forest Service cannot take away something that Congress has provided.” And Racicot’s counsel on the State Land Board advised Racicot and the board in 1996: “There is a federal statute, Title 16 USC 3210(a), which gives absolute right of access across all national forests to isolated parcels. ... The Secretary of Agriculture ... cannot deny access.” Racicot’s complaint is bunk.

Similarly, Racicot claimed that the roadless initiative “does not contain information describing which roadless areas are being considered.” But the Forest Service’s first document on this process states clearly that it will analyze “the effects of eliminating road construction activities in the remaining unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas on the National Forest System.” Maps of those areas have been available since the late 1980s, and the State of Montana has commented on their advisable management at least once each. Again, Racicot’s ostensible rationale for opposing a measure to protect Montana’s wildlands does not stand examination.

Proving that “monkey see, monkey do” is more than a childhood taunt, a week after Racicot’s disingenuous anti-wilderness work, Rick Hill began stumping (in The New York Times) for a bill that would open about 1 million acres of Montana Wilderness Study Areas to roading, logging, mining, and development. The Hill bill would “sunset” protection for Wilderness Study Areas in 10 years, merrily ushering in an era of gas rigs in the Missouri River Breaks, logging and mining in the last roadless areas of the Bitterroot Valley, roads into Ten Lakes, et cetera.

With a logic that would embarrass the Sentinel High debate team, Hill explained that it’s very hard to pass a wilderness bill (which is why he hasn’t introduced one) and that therefore he is trying instead to pass a bill that will eliminate protection for partially protected areas, because this looming deadline will result in protected wilderness. And that’s why Hill calls this bill—this bill that would promote roads on the Sleeping Giant, off Rock Creek, in the Pioneers—Hill calls this bill “The American Wilderness Protection Act.”

When did the right wing get so mealy-mouthed? If Hill saw my labrador retriever with his webbed feet, would he call it a duck? If these guys want to log the Swan Range, the Sapphires, the Great Burn, let’s have an open and honest debate about that, not manufactured complaints about process and misleading titles. As Racicot piously advised Congress three weeks ago, “The people we serve have a right to see in and know intimately what we are doing. Democracy operates better with a free flow of accurate and honest information.”

I have no idea what he really meant by that.

John Adams is development director for the Montana Wilderness Association. Opinions expressed in “Independent Voices” do not necessarily reflect those of the Independent or the MWA.

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