What’s changed in 30 years in the BNF? 

It was like déjà vu all over again for Brock Evans last weekend when he flew over the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) for the second time in more than 30 years.

In the 1960s, when this Seattle lawyer and environmentalist visited the Bitterroot Valley it was to see first hand, from the air, the devastating effects of clearcut logging and heavy-handed Forest Service management on the forest.

In Evans’s second fly-over last weekend he saw the effects of the 2000 forest fires and areas the agency has proposed for landscape logging. Though the two fly-overs were separated by more than three decades, some things don’t change much.

Evans’s first flight was documented by Missoula reporter Dale Burk, who published his exposé of Forest Service practices in his September 1970 book, The Clearcut Crisis.

In that book, a younger Evans, then the northwest representative of the Sierra Club, lamented the now-debunked practice of wholesale clearcut logging. “Seeing the contrast between the Selway country and what they’ve done with their heavy logging gives us an idea of what they (the Forest Service) will try to do to the Selway in the next 10 to 20 years,” Evans told Burk in a late 1960s interview.

In August 2001, Evans, now executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition in Washington D.C., again laments misguided big-landscape logging plans proposed by the Forest Service in the wake of the 2000 fires. “The uproar over clearcutting began here,” he tells a group of environmentalists immediately following last weekend’s flight.

There are differences between then and now, however subtle.

Environmentalists over the last few decades have developed a kind of written and oral tradition that has been handed down from one generation of enviros to the next, unlike the Forest Service, which environmentalists say has no institutional memory of its own past mistakes.

This time, the debate centers on the BNF Burned Area Environmental Impact Statement which calls for massive logging—as much as 280 million board feet.

Evans again criticizes the BNF for proposing logging on a “beautiful landscape, badly abused” by roads and plantation terracing. “I thought, haven’t they learned anything after all these years. It’s like old wine in new glasses. Why can’t they let these lands heal for a while?”

Evans says that the Clinton Administration tried to change the Forest Service logging paradigm by promoting a more holistic approach to forest management. President George W. Bush’s candidacy traces a part of its victory to a financially supportive timber industry. “And now the payback comes,” says Evans. “All the signals are out: If you want to succeed in the agency, get the logs out.”

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