(Originally published in USA Today, July 22, 2004)
Rules Change Would Beat Reckless Path Through Forests
By Mary Zeiss Stange
We Montanans haven't heard much about the "wise use" movement in years.
The phrase gained currency as a rallying cry among land developers and
right-wing anti-environmentalists throughout the West during the early
Then, graffiti started sprouting up in the heavily timbered western part
of the state proclaiming that "spotted owl tastes like chicken." The
Militia of Montana started networking with other so-called patriot
groups to promote the idea of local sovereignty over the land and
everything on it. After that, the phrase "wise use" more or less went
But with the Bush administration's recent announcement of its intent to
repeal the Clinton-era roadless rule, which protects 58.5 million acres
of national forest, the insidious idea is poised to make a comeback.
Indeed, in Montana, where logging, mining and tourism are vital
industries, the concept and its anti-regulation, pro-development spirit
The repeal would be the latest in a series of rollbacks of environmental
regulatory standards by the Bush administration. But Americans and the
environment would be the big losers.
States' rights issue
The administration argues that this is a states' right issue. It would
be up to governors to devise their own roadless plans to block the
development of federal land. Republicans have hailed the proposal as
such. Montana Gov. Judy Martz, for example, applauded the
administration's appreciation "that state, tribal and local governments
are best equipped to make key decisions about the future of our public
Yet Montana is one of the dozen Western states that stand to be most
heavily affected by the move. The proposal was engineered by Agriculture
Undersecretary Mark Rey, a former timber-industry lobbyist.
Environmental leaders are universally outraged at what the National
Environmental Trust's Philip Clapp has called "the biggest giveaway to
the timber industry in the history of the national forests."
Republicans have been at pains to cloak their actions in the rhetoric of
Roads, they argue, are good for forests. The new, pro-development policy
is, as Arizona House Speaker Jake Flake told reporters, "totally
essential to getting into thinning forests so that they don't all
But, according to the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, twice as many
Western forest fires start in areas with roads. And they are far more
likely to be caused by human beings than by lightning, which is nature's
way of thinning forests. So it's not difficult to deduce that the best
way to protect the forest is to prevent the building of more roads that
intensify human access.
This doesn't mean keeping people out of the woods. It just means you
can't drive there. In June, at the annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers
Association of America, National Rifle Association President Kayne
Robinson excoriated environmental groups for their support of roadless
wilderness. They were, he said, "trying to hoodwink hunters into voting
for gun-ban candidates," and "it's pretty hard to hunt without
The politics of gun control aside, it's more likely that the hunters
Robinson had in mind find it pretty hard to hunt without their pickups
and all-terrain vehicles, since access to some of the best public
hunting landin roadless areasis restricted to those on foot or
horseback. Those areas provide essential habitat and breeding grounds
for game species increasingly feeling the encroachment of human
Robinson is as disingenuous regarding the ecological realities of
roadless forests as the Department of Agriculture, whose mandate it is
to manage the areas for the people.
In June, the Bush administration finalized, over Oregon Gov. Ted
Kulongoski's objections, one of the largest ever timber sales in the
roadless Klamath-Siskiyou region. This month, a logging plan was
announced for a roadless area within Alaska's Tongass National
In light of these moves, the Bush administration's rewriting of the
roadless rule looks to be, at best, an afterthought, and, at worst,
Any way you cut it, it amounts to unwise use of the last, best places
Americans have to call our own.
Mary Zeiss Stange is an associate professor of women's studies
and religion at Skidmore College. She is the author of Woman the
Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997) and co-author, with Carol K. Oyster,
of Gun Women: Firearms and Feminism in Contemporary America (New
York University Press, 2000).
Creative Thought Matters.