Here in Missoula we’ve got none of your fancy big city G8 summits or Cannes Film Festivals. But this week, ready or not, we’ll be doing our best to give a big small-town welcome to Gov. Martz and her forest-thinning pals—Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, and Govs. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Janet Napolitano of Arizona. The bigwigs and their entourages will be in town at the invitation of Martz to attend a summit to speed up healthy forest projects throughout the West.
While the governors won’t likely be boozin’ and crusin’ like the Hell’s Angels, local, state and federal law enforcement will be out in force to keep the peace. With so many rambunctious youths loitering in the Garden City, protests can spark faster then you can strap on your Tevas.
But Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin says he and his peers have got things under control.
“We try to have continuing dialogue with as many different [conservation] groups as are willing to have dialogue with us,” he says. “They know what to expect from us, and we have some idea what to expect from them.”
McMeekin doesn’t envision the Sierra Club or Women’s Voices for the Earth rioting and looting, but he can’t predict everything. And there’s always the possibility of an isolated protester hitting Bosworth in the face with a pinecone from an endangered old-growth tree. (Most Missoulians remember, some fondly, when activist Randall Mark tossed a rotten salmon pie at Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage at the University of Montana in 2000—Mark was unhappy with the representative’s forest politics.)
Safeguarding the VIP visitors in the city and managing protests isn’t anything new to Missoula law enforcement. But with 200 politicians, their aforementioned entourages and select media types traipsing around the forest, radical interlopers could be anywhere. The field trip—which loops through the Lubrecht Experimental Forest, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, the Big Larch campground and the Clearwater Stewardship Project—has forced the temporary closure of some public lands.
“Obviously there is a reason for [the closures] and that’s security,” says Seeley Lake District Ranger Tim Love. “You might have some people that…well…you know. You never know.”
Besides the closures, the field trip is restricted to those who have pre-registered.
“Anyone of course can register,” says Western Governors’ Association communications director Karen Deike. “But of course we filled up really early.”
A few disgruntled conservation activists didn’t make the cut, and have been told that they can’t even tag along in their VWs.
One polite e-mail from the association to a passed-over activist reads: “Thank you for your inquiry and your interest in the field trip. However, for security purposes personal vehicles will not be allowed to join the trip…We will certainly keep you on our waiting list and will notify you if a slot becomes available.”
Sadly, none of the 200-plus participants has so far bailed.
E-mail number two: “Unfortunately, no one has moved up on the waiting list. We have had no cancellations since we closed the field trip on May 16th. At this point, I do not anticipate we will have any openings. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to seeing you in Missoula.”
Deike says that there’s nothing political behind the choice of who goes and who will have to sneak though the woods to see the action (the action being a catered lunch with Martz). Looks like many activists will have to go the peaceful protest or endangered-pinecone toss route.