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Coalition tears page from George W.'s book of diplomacy

| February 27, 2007 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

Through its mouthpiece of the Lincoln County Coalition, the Yaak Valley Forest Council is dismissing legitimate questions about a legislative proposal being developed for Lincoln County.

In doing so, the supposed coalition letter, disseminated by Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council and published in The Western News, tears a page from the George W. Bush book of diplomacy.

You're either with us, or you're with the enemies of yesterday.

Nothing is quite that simple, of course, including the legislative package the coalition contends is beyond substantive criticism. Derisively, the letter dismisses criticism as "a few of the same old tired ideological arguments, when the substance and concept can't be attacked."

That invites a look at substance.

Little is of more substance to folks in Lincoln County than the truth.

Yet whoever actually wrote this group letter - not a difficult guess - wanders astray when contending that the Yaak Valley Forest Council "paid for a couple of ads to run in the Libby and Kalispell papers."

The truth is, the Yaak Valley Forest Council orchestrated a concerted promotional campaign that included full-page color ads in Libby and Kalispell, a follow-up, slick brochure inserted into newspapers, and a Web site dedicated to the coalition.

Significantly, two county commissioners who are prominently displayed in an ad campaign majestically proclaiming "a new day for Lincoln County" knew nothing beforehand either about content or about placement. That the Yaak Valley Forest Council would use elected officials without their knowledge is troubling. Worse, the county commission as a deliberative body has never voted to officially endorse this coalition. Implying otherwise, as the Yaak Valley Forest Council ads do, is deceptive.

Indeed, that to me is a matter of substance.

One substantive concern the Yaak Valley Forest Council has skirted since it formed the coalition is government's purchase of private timber lands, specifically those belonging to Plum Creek, to be used in its community forest.

Any acres purchased would be removed from the tax rolls and transferred to public county ownership.

Whether the county has any business buying and managing private property is a substantive question raised from the beginning as fundamentally unacceptable to many, my "old tired" self included.

Yet as presented to Montana's congressional delegation in December, the coalition's proposal mandates that commissioners use a set percentage of proceeds from a proposed restoration project to buy private land.

Inclusion of that proposal remains a substantive concern.

The coalition recommends adding 30,000 acres in the Yaak to wilderness. Despite widespread public opposition, the Forest Service as part of its stalled forest plan revision is once again talking about recommending added wilderness on the Kootenai. How much - and in what areas - is a substantive issue, especially since this would be on top of what the coalition wants to designate.

Twice in county commission meetings at the courthouse, Libby residents other than those in the coalition have raised the substantive concern of litigation by environmental groups outside the area. After all, their lawsuits have come to dictate forest management. These folks have pointed out to King and others that once wilderness is designated, it's permanent. Yet even if the coalition's work produces jobs in theory, there's no guarantee, because of litigation, that work on the ground will ever proceed. We've seen that very consequence of litigation too many times before.

Another substantive concern was raised with commissioners by a former mill owner who questioned the wisdom of a Lincoln County project on the Three Rivers District that ultimately benefits jobs at Idaho mills.

To him, that's a matter of substance.

And there are other considerations equally substantive, such as the lack of legal notice of any coalition meetings where presumably forest management for the entire county is being discussed.

But let me finish with a bit of irony.

In approving the letter's derisive dismissal of critics, the coalition appears to be perpetuating the very problem it claims to solve: Polarization. You're either with us or against us. That, again, seems substantive.

Steve Newman

Eureka