Friends of the Bitterroot

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Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

Upholding American Law and Proud of It:

A frank look at the anger and hostility engendered by the activism of FOB in the Bitterroot Valley.


Friends of the Bitterroot draws more anger and vituperation than any other organization in the Bitterroot Valley. Some people in the wood products industry, biomedical research, developers of open land, motorized recreationists, people against predators and others feeling a need to vent anger seem to find common ground in attacking environmentalists, including Friends of the Bitterroot (FOB). Perhaps it's time to examine the paradox of this hostility. The hostility is ironic because we all benefit from a healthy environment and, judging from Madison Avenue advertising backdrops that sell cars, toothpaste and pharmaceuticals, we know that Americans everywhere love nature and wilderness.


FOB takes part in a vital democratic process, available to all citizens of America, to encourage and to insist when necessary, that our government and all of its agencies follow the laws of our nation. When people label us as elitist, fringe, or radical, they are reversing the facts. Conservation groups, FOB included, are extremely well-supported by the American public. The fact is, the vast majority of Americans of all political affiliations call themselves conservationists and support work by national, regional and local conservation groups that protect wildlands, wild animals and their habitat, and clean air and water. A tiny minority of Americans, often directly tied to resource extraction interests, consider themselves to be against conservation efforts. When members of this minority complain about the work of FOB, their hostility is based on frustration that FOB is not simply allowing them to push their agenda of personal gain if it violates laws that reflect the will of the American people. For this, they label us obstructionist! In reality, if a project is legal FOB has no power to obstruct it.


FOB was established in 1988 to help bring timber harvests on surrounding national forests to sustainable levels. In 1962, the peak harvest year, 77 million board feet (15,500 log truck loads) were cut, a harvest rate not even close to sustainable. FOB, which includes in its membership professional foresters, witnessed the severe impact of these cut out-get out practices of large out-of-state corporate mills in the 1960s and 70s. By the time they left in the late 1980s, they had eliminated through competition, most of the Bitterroot's small mills. Our local logging community, our loggers and small mills were left without a sustainable supply of national forest timber, not because of anything FOB has done, but because of the legacy of forest damage caused by these historic timber industry and Forest Service excesses.


The clearcutting and road building was so excessive during this period that it will be generations before our forest will recover from habitat fragmentation, stream sedimentation, soil compaction and erosion that continues today. The Clearcut Controversy in the Bitterroot led directly to passage by Congress of the National Forest Management Act establishing legal limits to environmental damage caused by public forest management all across the nation, so that these tragedies would never be repeated. In response to this FOB has set, as a primary mission, the restoration of our forests, which may also help us to regain a stable supply of harvestable timber in the future.


Our critics may complain that FOB has paralyzed the Forest Service with lawsuits when in fact over our 19-year history we have litigated just four timber sales. The reason these timber sales were halted or modified was simply because they were in violation of the law. The proposed Middle East Fork timber sale risks the same fate because the proposed alternative is not in compliance with our nation's laws.














Trail Creek


Non-litigated appeals that FOB has filed against proposed FS timber sales were also based on clear violations of US laws that protect public forests, public resources and public process. Our appeals have led to many improvements that benefit the majority of forest users. Some examples are the preservation of special places in or near the Bitterroot, such as the beautiful and historic Trail Creek watershed, where the old Nez Pierce Trail goes from Gibbons Pass to the Big Hole. We helped protect the Chief Joseph and Anderson Mountain ski areas from degradation. More economic and ecological benefits of FOB's appeals result from the major reduction in planned road building on the BNF. Bitterrooters who appreciate the abundance of elk in the BNF understand that preservation of roadless areas in the forest is a key to maintaining the healthy big game herds. And sportsmen know roads, especially unmaintained roads, destroy fish habitat with sediment. FOB steadfastly believes that agency bureaucrats function best with meaningful and informed oversight by the public they serve.


We live in a representative democracy and the laws of our nation ideally reflect the will of most Americans. We all know, however, that some laws are passed by Congress without broad citizen support. Special interest lobbyists and corporations financially support candidates and expect something in return. They sometimes push through legislation that is not in the public's best interest. Completely unrelated riders are stealthily attached to vital budget or defense bills.


In the history of our country, though, there are some examples of laws passed by Congress purely because a huge majority of the American public has demanded it. The laws that protect our environment belong in this class. Few other examples surpass the sheer magnitude of grassroots, bipartisan support in the forming and passing of environmental laws in this country. The American public continues to speak its will that our natural environment must be protected, that resource use must be done in a sustainable manner, and that ecological science must guide the process by which we design and carry out any projects on public lands. Many conservation groups have formed all across the country, with the purpose of ensuring that these truly democratic laws are upheld. FOB is proud to be among them.

Trail Creek