The Bitterroot logging saga did not end with the settlement last week that scaled the project back by about two-thirds and got 27,000 acres of roadless land and fish habitats removed from the plan.
In some ways the agreement, hammered out during days of court-ordered, closed-door mediation, only opened up a new chapter. Now that logging is imminent, numerous more radical environmental groups who did not take part in the mediation process have begun weighing their options.
While the environmentalists who were involved in the mediation say they did as well as they could given the circumstances, others think too much was conceded.
“The reality now is that virtually the entire project will now be taking place in the heavily roaded and logged-over landscape—the areas that are most in need of true, ecologically-based restoration,” says Jake Kreilick, campaign coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance. Kreilick’s group is also concerned about the process itself.
“To many in the environmental community, ourselves included, the whole mediation process seemed rigged,” he says. He accuses the presiding judge at the mediation of being pro-timber and says the Bush administration pursued this course to circumvent the will of the people. Furthermore, there are thousands of citizens and organizations who still have not had a chance to appeal the project, Kreilick says.
The National Forest Protection Alliance and numerous other groups will be closely monitoring the logging.
“Make no mistake, these salvage logging sales will be the most heavily scrutinized in Forest Service history to ensure that the laws are followed, and so the American people will clearly see that you cannot restore a burned forest through commercial logging,” Kreilick says.
Kreilick could not say yet whether any groups are planning direct action protests in the Bitterroot, stressing that the first step is observation.
Some environmentalists who took part in the mediation expressed concern last week that direct action by more radical groups could jeopardize a peaceful resolution in a very divisive climate.
After the settlement, Friends of the Bitterroot Executive Director Larry Campbell, who in the past had his house shot at for his pro-environmental activism, said he was glad the settlement would get local loggers back to work. Timber Workers United President Bob Walker, who claims his group has been targeted by the shadowy Environmental Liberation Front, said he hopes to work closely with environmental groups in the future.
Is this harmony genuine, and would direct action in the Bitterroot to disrupt the logging also disrupt unity in the environmental community?
Kreilick answers by addressing the larger power structure: “The fact is, we live in a state where our governor wants us to return to the days of massive mines, corporate clearcuts and industry dominance over our landscape.”