The Missoulian has an article today boasting about the courageous folks at The Wilderness Society who have put aside their lawsuits and done the "very difficult work" of sitting at a table and outlining logging plans for a local national forest. They have established "principles" to guide their logging project and are now moving toward implementing it.
The article says this will be a way to break through the paralysis and get something done and plus everyone gets to learn a little something about each other.
The group will start planning logging projects on the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests in Western Montana.
Other than the local lumber mills and The Wilderness Society, the article did not identify what organizations were involved in this collaboration, but I found it telling that no organization that has actually been involved in any litigation in Montana was quoted or identified as being a part of the group. The Wilderness Society is little more than a logging and grazing front-group in that part of the country (at this point Bob Marshall has rolled over in his grave so many times he's more properly considered to be buried in China), ever willing to cut a deal in the ecologically rich low country to save a few high, rocky peaks for their increasingly obnoxious fund-raising appeals. ("Won't you give us $35 today so we can save the spotted owl from extinction?")
And when you look at the principles they have come up with ("improve terrestrial habitat," "enhance ecological processes," and, um, "establish . . . a road system") there is nothing in there that is not already codified in some manner in our nation's laws or in the forest plans. (I can hear those ignoramuses guffawing at that statement already--but it's only because they haven't actually read or spent any time defending the Forest Plans or the laws and regulations that guided them.)
The problem is not a lack of principles or law, it is a lack of enforcement of principles and law. And for enforcement of principles, well, that is something one would most assuredly not turn to The Wilderness Society to see. (Their principles are derived from and printed on the checkbooks of their contributors.)
If the Forest Service wants to avoid litigation, it is going to need to talk to the people who actually sue it, not the green-cover groups like The Wilderness Society, and the Missoulian should be able to see this (or certainly Michael Moore should, a long-time reporter there with a clearer eye and, hopefully, cleaner conscience than that embarrassing paper's other environmental reporters, Perry Backus and Sherry Devlin).
But the Forest Service doesn't want to talk to the groups that sue it and it also doesn't want to see these principles actually enforced. That's why it turns to The Wilderness Society for cover -- it can look good while conducting business as usual, building its roads and insisting that streams will be protected and habitat will improve with the introduction of heavy equipment and tractor-based logging.
Back in the 1990s when this type of logging was going full bore, a lot of folks who actually spent time in the woods became pretty appalled at what was happening in Western Montana, and they started holding the agency accountable for it. They demanded to know why roads were falling off hillsides, streams were filling with silt, and clearcutting was rampant, and their increasing sophistication and knowledge is what has led to their recent courtroom successes.
The people who work for The Wilderness Society, by contrast, just plain weren't there, as usual. They were too busy fighting for alpine peaks, rocks, and ice and they are just as irrelevant now as they ever were, although somewhat more dangerous, now that they have decided that helping the Forest Service plan timber sales is part of their mission and is something their members want to pay them to do.
Update: Please see the comments section.