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The Bitterroot gets a new best friend

The Bitterroot's new friend

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There has been a changing of the guard at Friends of the Bitterroot (FOB). The 13-year-old conservation group named biologist Jim Miller to head up the organization, replacing Jim Olsen, who has been president for the past six years.

Miller, who lives in Corvallis, says the change in presidency will not mean a change in focus and the group will continue to concentrate on protecting the environment and roadless lands.

In fact, Miller says, the group may be needed now more than ever, since a growing number of people are contacting the FOB to complain about anti-environmental initiatives proposed by state and federal leaders.

“I believe that the common thread that nearly all of us share, in fact the reason many of us live in the Bitterroot Valley, is that we value our clean and beautiful environment,” he notes. “People sense that it is now being threatened as never before and they are turning to Friends of the Bitterroot and asking what they can do to help. I hope to take a lot of my experience and put it to work for Friends of the Bitterroot and lead it in a good direction.”

Outgoing president Olsen says as leader of the group he tried to change the confrontation over the environment from hostile to civil dialogue, without coercing people to compromise their values. “That was one of the things I tried to do, both within the [Forest Service] and in the environmental movement,” he says.

Olsen also generated plenty of controversy when he tried to steer his group away from forest issues and onto community concerns, like the expansion of Highway 93. Though the FOB’s involvement led to citizens having more of a say in the design of the highway through their communities, Olsen was criticized for the group’s involvement. But that kind of criticism goes with the job, he says.

“You’re always going to have angry people when you have a significant social movement,” Olsen observes. “Their anger represents a small, vocal minority.”

But above all, he says, working with other conservation groups and citizens to protect roadless lands from development was the high point of his tenure with the FOB. And his successor agrees it will continue to be a high priority. The caveats recently expressed by the Bush administration about the roadless plan are a concern for the FOB, Miller says, and serve as a reminder that the group needs to be vigilant in protecting the environment, even when it means suing government agencies to make those agencies follow their own rules.

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