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Ecologists and others find techno roots

I've written recently about the web in such a way as to highlight the vast diversity and global connectivity available online. But for now, I'd like to pull back and concentrate on local issues.

While virtual frog dissections and bomb-making sites are surely interesting diversions to be found online, the World Wide Web can be used to help us get a handle on the issues which affect our home ground.

Foremost among the issues which have implications here in Western Montana are policies and activities which will impact our largely unspoiled natural environment. I'm pleased to say that there are quite a number of nonprofit conservation groups which monitor and report such things and equally pleased that they are able to disseminate their information on the web.

It doesn't matter if you're an Earth First!er or a Wise User, Montana environmental groups are alive and well online. What follows is a brief review of sites developed by a smattering of such organizations.

All of these sites provide a window on environmental issues of the Northern Rockies. The angles and agendas are different, but they provide lenses through which we can come to a greater understanding of these topics.

In so doing, they show that the many-to-many nature of the web can also be a powerful tool for information dissemination and grassroots activism.

The Montana Wilderness Association, based in Helena, has been working to protect Montana's remaining roadless areas since 1958. The group's site offers a bit of history and information about each of the wilderness areas it tracks, including the full text of their detailed study of the Pryor Mountain Ecosystem, 40 miles south of Billings.

One warning: America Online web sites aren't known for their speed or accessibility, and this one's no exception.

The Wild Rockies' Slate is a huge clearinghouse of Northern Rockies environmental information. Numerous groups' pages are hosted here, including Montana's Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, the Predator Project and Women's Voices for the Earth.

For well-organized information on timber and mining issues in the Northern Rockies, Slate is as close to a one-stop shop as it gets.

Included at the Slate is the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Based here in Missoula, the alliance has been providing daily updates at its site on the Great Grizzly Hike, a 300-mile trek along the Continental Divide to focus attention on the importance of biological corridors, as well as offering the latest on their ecosystem legislation efforts and salvage logging reports.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which boasts 100,000 members, was founded in 1984 "to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat." The foundation's site provides reams of information about elk, their habitat and the policies that affect them. This is environmentalism with a hunter's slant.

For the tech-savvy radical activists among us, the Earth First! Journal is online. Included in the latest issue is advice for "tunnelers" -- who barricade themselves within elaborate tunnels to prevent or delay eco-hostile corporate activities -- and opportunities to purchase a "Visualize Industrial Collapse" bumper sticker and other paraphernalia.

While the Earth First!ers duke it out in the trenches, the Montana Environmental Information Center patrols lawmakers' halls in Helena. Established in 1973, MEIC monitors legislative activities which affect Montana's environment.

The center's fast-running, well-designed site includes information about the results of numerous new laws from the 1997 legislative session. MEIC also supplies a grim "report card" for Montana state legislators, based on their voting records. This is an excellent site for tracking a bill you're interested in, and it's organized in a way that makes navigation easy.

The Missoula-based Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Coalition was formed in 1985 to stop a pulp mill from increasing its pollution of the Clark Fork River.

The group's current battle pits it against the proposed immense cyanide-heap leach gold mine at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, a topic richly and completely chronicled at their sleek, informative web site. Detailed maps, press releases and profiles of the mining companies, Phelps Dodge and Canyon Resources, are included.

The site of the Wise Use group People for the West states: "We challenge proposed legislation that affects the multiple use law of the land and endorses overzealous environmental regulations that put nature before human beings. We fight against excessive government regulation that impedes our American freedoms." Based in Colorado, this nonprofit has a budget generated almost entirely by mining and oil corporation contributions. (Then read the other side of the story.)


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