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Forest politics make fringe bedfellows

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An e-mail written by a Bitterroot Valley legislator urging people to counter a pro-environmental rally in Hamilton was picked up and distributed by a group that counts the Militia of Montana among its supporters.

Rep. Rick Laible (R-Hamilton) and his wife Frankie sent out an e-mail to persons unknown on June 13 warning that the environmental group Friends of the Bitterroot had invited 60 members of Earth First! to a Hamilton meeting hosted by the USDA Forest Service. The Laibles also stated that environmentalists were being paid to attend public meetings on environmental issues. The June 14 meeting was held to publicly discuss salvage logging plans in and around areas burned in last summer’s fires.

The e-mail was picked up and distributed to others by Clarice Ryan, secretary for Montanans for Multiple Use, which is based in Kalispell. In its newsletter for March and April 2001, the group urges people to support the businesses that support Montanans for Multiple Use, among them, the Militia of Montana and “The Edge,” a controversial AM radio call-in program broadcast from Kalispell that Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said “promotes hate.”

Former Friends of the Bitterroot President Jim Olsen says FOB routinely invites environmentalists from any and all groups to attend public pro-environmental events in the Bitterroot, but has no control over who decides to attend. The group doesn’t pay people to attend meetings or rallies, he says.

Laible says he heard the rumors from two sources he declines to identify. “They seemed to be valid.” One source was an attorney from Missoula with no connection to the environmental community. “He said that he had heard it on the street.”

Laible also says he has no involvement with Montanans for Multiple Use, nor was he aware the group counts the Militia of Montana among its supporters, saying “The only thing I was trying to do is generate some response to the idea that there were 60 environmentalists (arriving) from out of the area.”

Olsen points out that Laible’s e-mail urges people to resist environmentalist outsiders in the salvage logging decision-making, but that judging by the license plates on cars outside the meeting place, many timber industry supporters from Idaho and other places outside the Bitterroot Valley attended.

Laible also says he counts FOB among his friends and neighbors. “Friends of the Bitterroot should have a seat at the table. This is their community too, and they have as much right to sit at the table as anyone.

“I have no control over where my e-mails go,” he adds. “I think it was my wife’s e-mail anyway.”

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