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Logging lightly

Bud Moore's healthier forest initiative



For 30 years now, retired Forest Service Ranger and former Chief of Fire Management and Air Operations for the Northern Region Bud Moore has quietly been logging 80 acres of his own private land in the upper Swan Valley area known as Coyote Forest. Moore named the densely forested land upon visiting the untamed plot in 1974 with his late wife, former Montana legislator Janet Richardson-Fitzgerald. The couple came upon a coyote as they explored the turf that would soon become their home, and Richardson-Fitzgerald said, simply, “Coyote forest.”

The name stuck, and so has Bud Moore.

As he sits at an old wooden table in a Coyote Forest office surrounded by old Forest Service regalia, signs for Winchester guns and maps of the Swan Valley, it is hard to believe that Bud Moore is 86 years old. While his gold-rimmed glasses, bright orange suspenders and balding gray hair offer the signs of an old-timer, Moore speaks with the energy of a 20-year-old Forest Service employee fresh on the job, eager to explain his beliefs to anyone who will listen. Amazingly, Moore continues to do most of the physical work of logging himself, although he does have a few employees to help with his one-saw mill, which he calls a “mom and pop operation, except we don’t have mom anymore.” He also owns 167 acres near Ovando at Madison Meadows.

While Moore’s name isn’t as well-known across the country as that of his good friend Norman Maclean (who was with Moore the day he decided to purchase what would later become Coyote Forest), it probably should be. Moore is credited as being the man within the Forest Service who changed the agency’s outlook on wildfire to include the idea that some fires should be allowed to burn. He has also written a book that stands alongside Maclean’s A River Runs Through It in the Montana natural history canon: The Lochsa Story: Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains.

In that book, Moore argues in favor of logging practices which will not diminish what the author describes as “the wholeness of the land”—that is, all the land’s values, including timber, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunity, aesthetics and so on. Moore believes firmly that under proper “ecosystem management,” the years of bitter debate between groups with different ideas about land use—the “big two” being loggers and environmentalists—could come to an end.

But while most retired Forest Service bigwigs would write their book and move on, Bud Moore has taken it a step further, putting his words into action at Coyote Forest. Before he begins any logging, Moore says he “asks the land some questions.” Specifically, his goal is to calculate which trees he can take with the least impact on the forest’s ecosystem. Moore approaches this process by first considering what he must leave, rather than what he can take.

Last year, the answers to these questions resulted in Moore logging about 20,000 board feet.

“I could have done a lot more, but I’m thinking of the whole place,” Moore says.

In contrast, a typical logging project by a company such as Plum Creek on 80 acres of land in this valley tends to extract twice that amount of timber, if not more, Moore says.

Moore adds to his wood-based income by creating some value-added products such as fireplace mantles. This second step is rare in Montana, where most lumber is shipped out-of-state to be manufactured into finished form.

“We’ve got to make it pay,” Moore says. “At the same time, though, we can make it pay without tearing up the place. Our creed here is to do no damage to the ecosystem, and that means no damage to any of the values out there, not just trees. Water, soil, small wildlife, big wildlife—we’re just not going to take one resource out of there and damage another. We just don’t do that,” Moore says. “We’re trying to demonstrate that we can make money, turn out some nice products and keep the ecosystem healthy, whole and sustainable. That’s our mission. That and to share what we learn and do with our neighbors, our academic institutions and our government.”

Despite his focus on logging sustainably, however, Moore isn’t about to join the chorus of environmentalists calling for Forest Service heads on a platter in the wake of implementation of the Bush administration’s Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. While he understands that the 2001 appointment of Mark Rey—an 18-year timber industry lobbyist—to oversee the Forest Service infuriated many in the environmental community, Moore argues that the Forest Service has always been, and always should be, submissive to the White House administration steering it.

Moore’s attitude, paraphrased to its core, is simple: Blame Bush, not the Forest Service for following his orders.

“Growing up, I thought the Forest Service were the best mountain men in the woods,” Moore says. “I haven’t changed my mind on that very much.”

The continued, and arguably growing, public distrust of the governmental keepers of the land that he served for 40 years saddens Moore, who sees a greater degree of polarization than he has witnessed in the past. Reading the daily newspapers, one might assume that the logger/enviro feud is as old as time itself, and as seemingly irresolvable as the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Perhaps no messiah will ever unite loggers and environmentalists, but listening to Bud Moore talk inside his warm, stove-heated cabin in the Coyote Forest, one can’t help but think he could be exactly the man for such a job.

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