Opponents of the Forest Service’s roadless initiative organized a well-publicized and well-attended rally last Wednesday, but the means by which they gained attention has come under scrutiny by some supporters of the proposal.
The organizers of the event, called Citizens Against Roadless Expansion (CARE) included the Montana Wood Products Association, which asked regional lumber mills to give employees a paid day off and provided an all-you-can-eat free barbecue at the rally preceding the public commentary forums at the Doubletree Inn and at Urey Lecture Hall.
While such tactics have a long history in the political process, the ethics of CARE’s media campaign were a little more questionable, according to Jennifer Ferenstein, a member of the Sierra Club’s board of directors. In particular, she calls into question a statistic heavily featured on yellow T-shirts worn by many at the rally. “81 percent of Montanans voted against roadless expansion,” the shirt read, a stat referring to a referendum placed on ballots in Lincoln, Sanders, and Flathead counties in the June 6 primary. To further complicate matters, Ferenstein goes on, the question put forth on ballots in those counties was not worded to accurately reflect the Forest Service’s current roadless proposal.
Voters were given a choice on a statement which read: “I support/I do not support the federal government’s policies of advocating for more road closures and 40-60 million more acres of roadless land.” The federal proposal, Ferenstein points out, would not close any existing roads but would instead restrict roadbuilding in roadless areas.
“The wording on the ballot was loaded,” she comments. “It’s not even clear that what went on the ballot was legal, since the way they worded it dealt with more than one political issue, which is against the state constitution. They also collected no signatures to get the question on the ballot, which may also be against state law. The county commissioners approved the referendum at the last minute. All that should tell you that what they really wanted out of this was some numbers to use as propaganda in an election year.”
For his part, Cary Hegreberg, spokesman for the Montana Wood Products Association, defends CARE’s methods. “What’s wrong with doing things the old-fashioned, democratic way like they did in these counties?” queried Hegreberg. “I know that if you were to put this on a state-wide ballot, in the form of a simple question, ‘Do you support this roadless initiative,’ the results would not vary by more than two percent from what they got in these counties. It’s no worse than the drivel these environmental groups come up with by asking loaded questions in phone surveys.”
To counter the roadless-opponents’ statistic, Ferenstein cites a League of Conservation Voters poll in which 62 percent of voters state-wide supported the initiative. “I think his [Hegreberg’s] idea is a good one,” challenged Ferenstein. “Tell him to send me the forms, and I’ll help him collect the signatures to put this on the ballot.”