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Forest Council endorses Burns' nomination of Hurst

| August 19, 2005 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

Here in the Yaak Valley, we often refer to the roadless regions of this lush, buggy rainforest as "The Land the Wilderness Act Forgot." For 41 years and counting, a rich procession of community activists—some in the environmental community, others in the timber industry, still others in a curious but not uncommon Lincoln County amalgam of the two — have labored to resolve this oversight, though always heretofore unsuccessfully. A new coalition of bipartisan leaders interested in pursuing community and economic development in this, the poorest county in the state, has joined in partnership with various committed business, environmental, and social interests in Lincoln County to support a Community Development package. We're grateful to the county's leaders for their bipartisan work in these efforts to bundle the needs of schools, the timber industry, business development, and the protection of Lincoln County's wild and special places, and our attempts to secure a Community Forest as well.

Our pro-wilderness group — the Yaak Valley Forest Council — is one of the local grassroots environmental groups involved with this collaborative coalition. For years, we've been involved in various discussions with the region's last independent sawmills — Stimson Plywood in Libby (before they folded), Owens & Hurst in Eureka (before they closed), as well as the small and creative (and still extant) Chapel Cedar in Troy. While pursuing our needs for wilderness and wildlands protection in some portion of each of the last 14 roadless areas in the Yaak, we have also become increasingly familiar with the needs and challenges of the wood products industry in Montana in the twenty-first century. One of our many areas of common ground involves the desire—the need—to preserve a viable local wood products industry for reasons of economic opportunity as well as forest health, fuels reduction, and restoration forestry, within the framework of existing laws and authorities.

Senator Baucus recently nominated Jim Hurst, co-owner of Owens & Hurst Lumber in Eureka, for the National Advisory Council regarding George Bush's overturning of the Clinton-era Roadless Rule. Jim's nomination surprised many environmentalists.

Some environmentalists around the state have been asking our group about our experiences with Jim. And in a state with nearly six-and-a-half million acres of critical wildlands remaining unprotected, we understand and share — with every ounce of our efforts, and every moment of our lives — their concern. As well, we recognize that our state is rich in talented and committed experts who could serve equally well. An extremely short list of other attractive candidates might include the Great Burn's Dale Harris, or our own hunting and fishing guide Tim Linehan, from the Yaak. (Indeed, we wonder if Montanans might convince Bush that we need two representatives on the council, due to our nationally-high proportion of unprotected roadless lands).

But in our discussions with Jim Hurst, we have always found him, despite his sometimes-gruff demeanor, to be a straight shooter, adaptable and creative — key aspects to keeping his mill running for as long as he did — and as fiercely committed to the future of rural communities as anyone we've encountered. The Jim we've come to know is a warm and caring family and community man, and willing to talk to and work with, as well as listen to, anyone. We always tell our environmental peers, when asked about Jim's nomination, two things: that for all his bark and bite of old, Jim's mill — a local and family-owned community-based business — utilized the very kind of wood that environmentalists support: small diameter dead and dying lodgepole gotten from existing open roads, often in non-controversial sections of the wildland-urban interface. In this sense, Jim does not represent the shorter-term timber industry of old, which environmentalists have come to know and fight. And that it's quite possible that on this council, if environmentalists and millworkers are able to present sustainable site-specific solutions to Montana's various community development needs, as they relate to our last roadless lands and wilderness heritage—not just in the Yaak, but in places like the Great Burn, the Swan, and even the majestic Rocky Mountain Front — then Jim can serve to deliver those creative, collaborative agreements back to Montana, for the good of Montanans and wildlands and rural communities. The pressure will certainly be on him to deliver collaboration and consensus, as will be the state's scrutiny.

The Yaak Valley Forest Council is intrigued by his nomination, and find ourselves reaching — with courage and trust — once more into those emotions called hope and trust. We believe Jim can help us bridge a future that protects our special wild places while also preserving a sustainable wood products industry in Montana. We look forward to continuing our work with him.

Rick Bass, board member

Tim Linehan, board member

Robyn King, executive director,

Yaak Valley Forest Council

Marv and Ruth Norris serve well as Libby ambassadors

To the Editor:

The town of Libby has two fine ambassadors in Marvin and Ruth Norris. I first met these two good people in 1959 in Chize, France. They hosted our military reunion early in the month in Kalispell.

We may have been in Kalispell, but without saying so, they led me to believe that, when I die, if I have been a good boy, I would go to Libby. For those 46 years it has been impossible to have a conversation with either of them without a favorable mention of Libby. They represent Libby well.

We were entertained by a wonderful lady who works at the First National Bank.

We, in Texas, believe ourselves to be hospitable. We could take lessons from Marv and Ruth. Thanks for sending them our way.

Donn Brooks

Kyle, Texas