Closed-Door Deal Could Open Land In Montana Forest Service Angers Locals With Move That May Speed Building
By Karl Vick Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, July 5, 2008; A01
MISSOULA, Mont. -- The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation's largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.
The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes. Plum Creek owns more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 1.2 million acres in the mountains of western Montana, where local officials were stunned and outraged at the deal.
"We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months," said Pat O'Herren, an official in Missoula County, which is threatening to sue the Forest Service for forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.
The deal, which Rey said he expects to formalize next month, threatens to dramatically accelerate trends already transforming the region. Plum Creek's shift from logging to real estate reflects a broader shift in the Western economy, from one long grounded in the industrial-scale extraction of natural resources to one based on accommodating the new residents who have made the region the fastest-growing in the nation.
Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.
. . . Under the new agreement, logging roads running into areas controlled by Plum Creek could be paved -- and would thrum with the traffic of eight to 12 vehicle trips per day to and from each home, according to O'Herren. Critics say that will further imperil grizzly bears, lynxes and other endangered species in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, a region of rugged peaks, glacier-carved valleys, and sparkling rivers and lakes that straddles the border between Montana and Canada -- and that in parts remains as Lewis and Clark found it.
Anything else left to sell off before Bush heads to his own 'ranch,' where he rides a bike and a pickup instead of a horse?
I live in Prague, but my American voting residence is in Livingston, Montana, so I'm not exactly neutral about issues of America's 'last best place' being auctioned off to the rich.
We're not rich in Livingston. We struggle with life as most people do, but we have always had access--as all Americans have had access. Ours happened to be just up the road. Now that access is being gated off and paved for 'third or even fourth homes.'
Median income for a household in Livingston is $28,980 (2000 census). You don't build a 3rd or 4th home on 29 grand.
America's high mountain meadows are under pressure from global warming and fires. It's hard to see how gated communities and paved roads will alleviate either of those pressures.
Did you catch that part about Rey being a former timber lobbyist and now overseeing the U.S. Forest Service? That's the modus operandi of this administration and unless Montanans get to court with a restraining order, it'll all be settled next month.