Guest post by Matthew Koehler
If anyone opens up the Missoulian opinion page today you’ll be greeted by an epic, off-the-rails rant from the Montana Wilderness Association’s ‘communications manager’ Ted Brewer (complete with outright lies and entirely propped up by strawman arguments) against longtime environmental and public lands champion George Ochenski.
Recently the Missoulian published two columns on its Opinion page that were, topically speaking, quite different. Psychologically speaking, however, they were quite similar.
One column claimed the U.S. government is controlling the weather through commercial airliner exhaust, known as “chemtrails.” The other was George Ochenski’s column claiming the Forest Service is using tax dollars to “buy” the support of conservation groups for logging, grazing and other resource extraction projects.
A friend of mine who used to work at a daily newspaper calls the Opinion page a “fact-free zone,” but these two conspiracy theories, printed on the same day, turned the Missoulian’s Opinion page into a paranoia playground, where President Obama makes it rain and an extravagantly funded Forest Service slips bags of cash to conservation groups while dining on filet of bull trout and leg of Canada lynx.
I’m the communications manager at Montana Wilderness Association, certainly one of the top entries on Ochenski’s list of enemies and a longtime, routine target of his column. (If Ochenski goes a few months without blasting MWA, I start to wonder if his mind might be slipping.) I’ve also been a writer for the past 20-odd years. I’ve written a fair number of magazine stories that have required me to dig for the sources that back my claims. It’s part of the job and the fun of doing credible journalism.
But once you start making outrageous claims without providing proof, then you’ve joined the ranks of birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots with personal and political axes to grind. That’s where we find Ochenski these days, so desperate to smear his enemies that he compares them to Nazis (yes, he did that) or tries to embroil them in controversies of his own paranoid concoction.
In the opinion piece, the Montana Wilderness Association compares Ochenski to “birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots.” The Montana Wilderness Association also calls on the Missoulian to replace George Ochenski (their very popular, weekly progressive columnist).
Apparently, what caused the Montana Wilderness Association to go completely off the deep end was the following information Ochenski included in a recent opinion column, in which he highlighted the comments by Wilderness Legend Stewart Brandborg (the only living person who was responsible for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964). Brandborg recently warned groups like MWA at a Wilderness Conference to “resist the fuzzy, fuzzy Neverland of collaboration,” because Brandborg believes that groups like MWA are giving up huge chunks of America’s public lands legacy in exchange for basically what amounts to some Wilderness crumbs.
What’s strange is that it’s absolutely no secret to anyone that for the past 10 years the Montana Wilderness Association has been ‘collaborating’ with the timber industry and others (sometimes in secret meetings, such as during the formation of the Beaverhead Partnership) to dramatically increase industrial logging on public National Forests in Montana through politicians simply mandating higher logging levels.
Not only this, but the Montana Wilderness Association has also gone to court to support more public lands logging in Montana. For example, just last month the Montana Wilderness Association took the incredible step of actually intervening in a timber sale lawsuit on the Kootenaa National Forest. The logging project MWA is in federal court supporting actually calls for nearly 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat.
Even more amazing is the fact that the Montana Wilderness Association is being represented in court supporting this timber sale by timber industry lawyers from the American Forest Resource Council. That’s right! The very same timber industry lawyers at the American Forest Resource Council who sued to stop the Roadless Area Conservation Rule are now representing the Montana Wilderness Association in court to support 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat on the Kootenai National Forest.
Here’s the part of George Ochenski’s column (in his own words, not in the lies and twisted strawman arguments of the Montana Wilderness Association) that sent the Montana Wilderness Association over the cliff:
If one wants to see where millions of federal taxpayer dollars have gone to buy collaborative partners, check out this link from the Southwest Crown of the Continent laying out the Forest Service’s publicly funded largesse to groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and many more.
This scheme pays taxpayer funds to private groups that provide ‘in-kind services’ to collaborate with the federal agency’s goals, many of which are directly connected to increased logging, grazing and resource extraction from public lands under the rubric of ‘forest health’ or ‘restoration.’
Yes, the truth is that the Forest Service is actually giving ‘collaborators’ with multi-million non-profit groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Trout Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation millions of taxpayer dollars to help manage public lands! In the case of the Montana Wilderness Association, they collected $100,000 in taxpayer money from the U.S. Forest Service to do trail work on Forest Service lands. Isn’t that an incredibly slippery slope that threatens to compromise the “Keep It Public” mantra we so often hear from these groups? Wouldn’t it be better for taxpayer money to simply fund the U.S. Forest Service to do its job, rather than having the Forest Service give this taxpayer money to multi-million non-profit groups who ‘collaborate’ with the Forest Service?
Honestly, given the Montana Wilderness Association very well-documented love affair with ‘collaboration’ and given the Montana Wilderness Association’s very well-documented demands for more taxpayer-subsidized public lands logging on National Forests in Montana (despite terrible lumber markets, despite global economic realities, etc) it’s just bizarre why MWA would be so upset with George Ochenski for pointing out the fact that MWA and other groups have been able to collectively get millions of dollars to hire their own staff and get paid for their volunteers to manage our public lands.
While these funds on the one hand enable partners to do some monitoring and watershed restoration work by repairing or decommissioning roads, it also appears to silence public criticisms by partners of the more controversial timber sales being conducted under the guise of “forest restoration.” Moreover, some SWCC partners have collectively promoted “restoration” logging and asked Congress to work with collaborators and not with “organizations and individuals who oppose collaborative approaches to forest management.
If you love America’s National Forests and our tremendous public lands legacy please don’t be lulled to sleep by groups like the Montana Wilderness Association.
The bottom line is that some of these very well-funded, multi-million groups are using ‘collaboration’ in an attempt to greatly increase public lands logging (including MWA’s well-documented calls for politicians to simply mandate huge increases in National Forest logging levels), while at the same time they are using ‘collaboration’ to secure huge chunks of taxpayer funds (via the Forest Service) in order to increase their staff size and essential embark down that slippery slope where the management of America’s National Forests is essentially ‘out-sourced’ and ‘privatized.’