On the list of things we never thought we'd see in Montana, right alongside the Rolling Stones taking over Washington-Grizzly Stadium and Barack Obama flipping burgers in Butte, was a wilderness advocate stumping for more logging. But sure enough, at Sen. Jon Tester's Oct. 26 open house in Missoula, where he presented his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, there was a Montana Wilderness Association staffer holding a sign that read, "I support jobs in the woods!"
But like the Stones show a couple years ago, something about Monday's surprisingly subdued event seemed staged. There was the white sheet held at the entrance to the Doubletree Hotel, spray-painted with the words, "Thank You Senator Tester"—just like the one that hung from a logging truck as Tester announced the bill in Townsend in July. And there were many more "homemade" signs planted inside the packed conference room calling for universally agreeable things like clean water and recreation.
We'll give Tester's team credit for their finely tuned rhetorical strategy. They know full well that if you're trying to sell a wilderness bill to Montanans you better not mention wilderness. Instead, they know to talk only about what the bill would do to cut trees, create jobs, manage wildfires and provide access to land to hunt, fish and ride snowmobiles in. Selling wilderness on its merits alone doesn't fly in most corners of Montana. Just ask Pat Williams.
Tester barely mentioned wilderness during his 30-minute slideshow presentation, even though we suspect most Missoulians want much more of it. He then stepped down and let the audience mingle with him and staffers who were manning booths with maps detailing how the bill would cut or protect thousands of acres of Montana forests. Perhaps it was this arrangement—keeping Tester from publicly answering to his critics—that gave the open house such a canned atmosphere.
That's probably what Tester wanted, and it's perhaps why the open house was announced with only four days' notice. In any case, it makes us wonder, if Tester's bill isn't challenged in Missoula, where will it be? And if not at the open house, then when?
We're not saying we oppose the bill. Reconciling the interests of conservationists and the timber industry is critically important. But as we've reported, the bill would set precedents, in both positive and negative ways, meaning it demands intense scrutiny, not a superficial flyby.
Which reminds us of another thing we never thought we'd see in Montana: helicopters landing in wilderness areas, which is exactly what Tester's bill would allow if it moves forward, unquestioned.