The Great Produce Rescue of 2012

I’m Robin Taylor, and I’m the garden manager at Wholesome Foods in Bridger. We’re in the middle of planting, but with every seed I put into the ground I’m reminded of my visits to this vegetable garden last summer – during a time that eventually became known as the Great Produce Rescue of 2012.

Wholesome Foods is owned by Dick and Patricia Espenschied. They’ve been farming in Carbon County –in the Clark’s Fork River Valley – for more than 15 years. They are committed to sustainable agriculture, and in addition to the vegetable gardens, they raise certified organic, free-range beef and hogs as well as heritage turkeys.

This is my first year “officially” working for the Espenschieds. The vegetable gardens here are substantial, and for many years, Wholesome Foods has supplied restaurants with produce and sold vegetables and meat at the Billings and Red Lodge farmers’ markets. But last spring, it looked like that tradition would be coming to an end.

No one knows for sure why, but last year in early June, the garden manager abruptly left. With so many other responsibilities and weeds rapidly taking over, the Espenschieds had decided – reluctantly – to till the garden under and give up on the vegetables for the season.

In Carbon County where I live, organic, locally-grown food isn’t always easy to find, but it’s a priority in the communities around here. Wholesome Foods was a key provider of healthy, affordable food – a critical farm-to-table link. When I heard about the dilemma the Espenschieds were in, I remember thinking, this just can’t happen!

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was concerned. The abandoned gardens also caught the attention of the Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council, a citizen-led group that supports sustainable agriculture and promotes the benefits of local foods. Food Corps Service Member Alyssa Charney was also concerned when she heard of the situation at Wholesome Foods.

Together, we decided to talk to Dick and Patricia and volunteer to provide the labor needed to save the garden.  So we loaded up some beer and baked goods – figuring we might need some extra leverage – and drove down to Wholesome Foods.

We were speechless when we saw the garden. It was seven whole, wide acres of weeds that were waist-high in some places. It had been planted, but the young seedlings were struggling to come up without water and tending. As a lifelong gardener, I can tell you, it was hard to see, but we were all focused on saving this important, local food source.

Although the Espenschieds were concerned that we might not be up to the task, they allowed us to take over the garden. With some experience in commercial gardening, I took the lead. My comrades that day from the Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council all stood by my side and played an important role getting the word out and rallying volunteers.

It was like triage those first couple of weeks. We hardly knew where to begin. We started irrigation and then harvested a mountain of lettuces. After that, we started the overwhelming task of weeding. Day after day, volunteers came to help. In time, our numbers grew, and by the end of the season more than 80 people came to help and contributed more than 600 hours of their time.  What a great new definition of Community Supported Agriculture!

It was hard work, but it was an adventure too. There were no records of what was planted so we would come across all these surprises – unusual eggplants, carrots popping up out of nowhere. Thankfully, there were a few volunteers who were willing to sacrifice their taste buds to help identify the various peppers.

When I look back on the Great Produce Rescue of 2012, I will never forget those sunny mornings, with all of us in our wide-brimmed hats, bent over the rows, making conversation and working together. So many friendships were deepened and so many connections were made to the land, to good health, and to the Espenschieds. Wholesome Foods became the community’s garden and did so much to raise awareness in the area about the importance of local food and sustainable agriculture.

I didn’t set out last summer to land the job as garden manager at Wholesome Foods, but I had always wanted to farm in the Clark’s Fork Valley. The ground here is just so healthy and productive and the surroundings are beautiful.

I couldn’t ask to be in a better place in my life than where I am right now. I’m doing all I ever want to do.

In Bridger I’m Robin Taylor for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. AERO has been linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions since 1974. Visit us online at aeromt.org.

Kit Fischer Commentary: “Your Secret’s Safe With Me”

I’ve visited the East Rosebud River every summer I’ve lived in Montana.
Flowing North out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the East Rosebud winds for some 30 miles before it’s joined by other aspen-lined tributaries- eventually flowing into the Stillwater and the Yellowstone River near Columbus. The water runs cold and clear, with very little diverted for agriculture and nearby development. By late August, when other streams feel like luke-warm kiddy pools, the creek remains cooled by the high elevation snowmelt fed from the 10,000 foot Beartooth plateau. Rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout feed voraciously – even during the middle of the day, feasting on the thousands of grasshoppers blown in from the gusty winds that come down the granite canyons to the south. The bird life is equally spectacular – western tanagers, yellow warblers, rare broad-tailed hummingbirds and far off, the eerie call of what sounds like some prehistoric teradactyl, the trumpet of a sandhill cranes fill the valley.
The river is lined with thick willows, redosier dogwood and aspen thickets, forming a nearly impenetrable fortress from would be wade fishermen. The stream still flows how an old mountain stream should; the cutbanks constantly shift during spring runoff and the willows and beavers take care of the rest. Its fine gravel bottom reflects sunlight from mica and quartz instead of beer cans and bumpers. In 1989 the Forest Service deemed a seven mile section of the creek suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation, although Montana hasn’t awarded a new wild and scenic designation since 1976.
Between the challenging access, icy cold waters, hairpin turns and beaver dams, the river (although probably more accurately, a creek) does a pretty good job of keeping itself a secret. I’ve only taken a handful of good friends fishing there in the 20+ years I’ve made my yearly pilgrimage and I’ve never seen another soul on the river.
We usually haul over my family’s venerable aluminum Grumman canoe. A now ancient relic that my folks acquired in the 70s and has probably explored more Montana rivers than I could list. It’s virtually indestructible. A tank of a canoe, it’s probably worth more in scrap metal than its resale value as a watercraft, but it has never let us down, even after dinging rocks loud enough to alert every fish in the river.
But even the best kept secrets don’t last. I should have known better—it’s often the secret places that are most overlooked for their recreational and wildlife values when energy development and resource extraction come along– and the East Rosebud is no exception. A Bozeman energy development company has recently announced their interest in exploring the possibility of developing a hydropower site on the river. A dam would be located just upstream from my “secret spot”.
It seems to be the catch-22 of all the great hunting and fishing spots that I’ve frequented in Montana. If it’s an easy place to get to, and the wildlife is abundant, the secret won’t last long—but at least it will exist for future generations. It’s the places that take a little extra effort to access – via two track, rutted dirt roads, singletrack trails and bushwacking– not highways and hotels– that tend to hold the best kept places. These places are naturally guarded from becoming huge tourist destinations, but not guarded from development- and Montana’s got plenty of them.
Maybe this year when I make my trip to the East Rosebud I’ll bring a couple more friends along and hopefully in return they will show me some other tucked away secret Montana place.

Kit Fischer writes on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation.

Deena Mansour Commentary: “Broadening Perspectives: A Montana Youth Leadership Program”

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at The University of Montana was founded 30 years ago to honor the life work of Senator Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen Hayes Mansfield. Before I launch into my topic, I would like to note that today, we join the family in grieving the loss of the only child of the Mansfields. Anne Mansfield passed away on April 24 at the age of 74. Our thoughts are with her daughter Caroline Marris and her family and friends around the world.

In a recent commentary, I shared Mike Mansfield’s strong interest in fostering youth. In his 1989 Message to Future Generations, he noted the importance of youth making the effort to understand people from around the world, and the importance of “accommodation and compromise, knowledge and understanding.”

In support of Mansfield’s vision, the Mansfield Center successfully competed for grant funding for the U.S. Department of State’s American Youth Leadership Program. This is a relatively new initiative of the State Department, designed to prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens and spark in them an interest in foreign cultures. Our goal is to support Montana youth to develop cultural understanding so that they may advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy. The University of Montana is host to one of only seven such programs in the country, and the only one for Cambodia.

As a result of this grant, the Mansfield Center is honored to support the travel of 20 high school students and two high school teachers to Cambodia for a month this summer. From a pool of nearly 160 applicants, we were honored to accept many future leaders of our state. They hail from towns large and small, including such communities as Opheim, Shelby and Ronan.

These 15-17 year olds are incredibly courageous to sign-on for this program. Most have never been out of the U.S. before. They have made a commitment to leave their family and friends behind for a month, relying on one another, program staff, and the support of strangers. They’ll experience heat like they’ve never felt, and eat food that they have never imagined. They’ll be immersed in a society that speaks Khmer: a completely different alphabet, vocabulary, and set of sounds.

We’ve heard from a number of them that others in their communities have questioned why they would ever want to do such a thing. In response, one student wrote, “I strongly believe that one of the most important things in life is seeing different perspectives and experiencing as much as one can of our complex world. Traveling to Cambodia would open my eyes to things I have not yet had the chance to see, and get me started in a lifetime of unique and wonderful experiences.” Another said, “…living on one of seven reservations in Montana, opportunities for many Native American teenagers are few and too far apart. When this opportunity presented itself to expand my outlook, I couldn’t have been more positive that this trip was something I was meant to do…. Researching Cambodians and hearing their stories, I kept thinking how Cambodians and Native Americans are not too different. I know I could create a relationship and connections with Cambodian people that could possibly last a lifetime.”

The focus of this group is on shared challenges in the environment and climate change. They’ll be taking lessons learned from our Montana environment, and contrasting them with new ideas learned from Cambodian partners. But more than just natural resources, the group will be learning about culture and society, including some hard issues, such as the genocide of an estimated two million people during the Khmer Rouge era. Our Montanans will visit the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek, where the trees are marked with blood of babies and children, and the ground still littered with their bone fragments.

The group will not travel unprepared. An important aspect of this program is an intense six-month preparation period, in the form of readings, webinars, and speakers. One of the students, Angus from Ovando, noted how much he has learned about the Cambodian genocide, noting, “Education is one of the most critical factors in preventing mass slaughter. Most of the Khmer Rouge soldiers were uneducated youth that were susceptible to the influence of the regime. The modern youth of Cambodia should be provided a secondary education, even though that’s easier said than done. But children should also be informed of what really did happen during the regime rather than being neglected that information.”

In terms of educating our own children, we’re honored that the Mansfield Center is doing its part to broaden Montana perspectives.

You’ll be able to follow the students’ visit to Cambodia starting in mid-June, on our website at umt.edu/Mansfield. We hope you’ll join them as they experience this great adventure.

Deena Mansour writes on behalf of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center.

Mark Hanson Commentary: “Affirming Our Humanity”

The news is saturated with violence and our responses to it: the Boston bombings, school shootings, and the everyday violence around the world we take little notice of. We see the worst of what humanity is capable, and often in response, the best. The display of compassion for the Boston victims is inspirational. But is it also possible that we could be inspired to seek a less violent world? For the tragedy in violence lies not just with the victims, but also in the seeds that give rise to it and the vengeance that it drives.

Perhaps the place to start is recognizing that the fear violence generates becomes the enemy of one of the most important tasks we have, ethically, as human beings, which is not to deny the very humanity of those we fear. Doing so puts morality itself at risk. And it is not only among the first victims of violence, it is also among its primary causes.

A most egregious example of this was lost among last week’s headlines, namely, the findings of a nonpartisan, independent review of U.S. interrogation and detention policies since the 9/11 attacks. The review, conducted by the Constitution Project, concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that responsibility for the practice went to the nation’s top officials. Prisoners were subjected to techniques that the United States in the past has prosecuted as international war crimes. The prohibition of torture, and foundation of human rights, is rooted in the affirmation of the moral status of every human being, no matter who they are. This is a core principle of Western civilization.

The Obama administration has shown no interest in prosecuting those responsible. And despite a laudable change in policy that now prohibits torture, the president’s noble goal of closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay within the first hundred days of his first term has still not been met. On April 14th, the New York Times published a letter from a Guantanamo prisoner who has been held there for eleven years with no trial and no charges. He is being force fed along with several others, a practice the report calls abuse.

The knee-jerk reaction of some people after the Boston bombings was to call for the suspects to be tried as enemy combatants, moves that would deny rights of American citizens. Some congressmen called for restrictions on immigration. Even worse, New York State Senator Greg Ball, claiming to speak on behalf of many Americans, called for the surviving Boston bombing suspect to be tortured. How easy it becomes.

Affirming the humanity of an enemy in no way defends or justifies what they do. It does not sympathize with their causes or absolve them of responsibility. Nothing can justify the Boston bombings, or the 9/11 attacks. Outrage and calls for justice are appropriate and understandable responses, and I share them. But as ethical human beings, the hard thing to do is not to allow anything to prompt us to deny any person their humanity, however hard it is to find, because it is that commitment which keeps us wedded to the most central tenets of human rights. And, just as important, it may lessen the level of violence to which our world has escalated.

Violence relies on the denial of the humanity of the other. War is facilitated through this denial. It is easier to kill those people who don’t belong to your group.

Nonviolence, on the other hand, relies on affirming humanity. As Clemson University professor Todd May writes, “In all but the most extreme cases, nonviolence summons us to recognize that humanity even when it cannot serve as the basis for negotiation or resolution. It demands that we who act do so with a firm gaze upon the face of the other. It demands the acknowledgment that we are all fragile beings, nexuses of hope and fear, children of some mother and perhaps parents to others: that is, no more and no less than fellow human beings in a world fraught with imponderables.”

Granted, strategies of nonviolence will not likely stop extremists such as the Boston bombers. But the important point is that we don’t allow even extreme cases to erode our most fundamental moral sensibilities, central to how we treat all those to whom we have ethical obligations, of various kinds. As professor May writes: “Those who come to our shores, whatever our policy toward them, must be seen as human beings seeking to stitch together a decent life rather than as mere parasites upon our riches. Those who are unhealthy must be seen as more than drains upon our taxes but instead as peers that, but for good fortune, might have been us.”

The fear generated by violence cannot be allowed to win. The perpetrators of awful violence ignored the humanity of their victims. As we seek justice and a less violent world, we must take care not to repeat their most grievous offense.

Mark Hanson is a guest commentator for the Mansfield Program in Ethics and Public Affairs at the University of Montana.

Dan Gallagher Commentary: “Veteran’s Viewpoint”

To begin with, I apologize for missing my last regular commentary turn, but I was visiting a surgeon at St. Patrick’s Hospital that whole week.
You see, my stomach took up residence in my diaphragm, turning upside down there just to be close to my heart and lungs. The surgeon returned it to the spot where God had originally put it.
It can be said, after three weeks of recovery, that the effort was successful.
And incidentally, I have nothing but praise for the professional and skill and demeanor of everyone at St. Pat’s: doctors, technical people, nurses; in fact, the whole hospital staff.
Now, I’m telling you about my recent medical history not because I think it should be of interest–or, even, that lengthy discussion of illnesses is remotely intriguing–fact is, I find it rather mundane and a little bothersome.
No, I’m tilling you of my situation because it actually ties in to my experience as a veteran of Vietnam.
The ailment that I just had treated stems from, and is related to, a condition known as GERD–gastro-esophageal reflux disorder. And it just happens that GERD is considered by the Veterans Administration as potentially service-connected, That is, it is considered to be a “presumptive” disorder that can result from exposure to the dioxin Agent Orange.
Because my problem reached its critical stage in a manner that required emergency care at a non-VA hospital, my hospitalization and care did not come from VA personnel. But that’s not why I’m telling you about it.
See, I had filed a VA claim for recognition of my ongoing, long term GERD problem a few years ago. The VA adjudicators determined–with typical VA logic–that because I didn’t suffer from or report the problem while still in the service forty years ago,
the connection–or ‘nexus’, as it is called–between my later-life medical issue and my exposure to Agent Orange was not strong enough for it to be considered a war-related problem.
I don’t understand that either; like what part of the word “presumptive” is unclear to them? ‘Presumptive’, as it is applied by the VA, means that if you have medical problem x (in this case, GERD), and if medical problem y is ‘presumed’ to be a natural result of war condition y (in this case, Agent Orange), the medical
condition will be ‘presumed’ to be caused by that exposure.
I have a problem with GERD, and I was verifiably exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. By the VA’s own standards, my medical problem must be ‘presumed’ to be, to some considerable degree, a result of spending time in an Agent Orange-sprayed jungle. But, in their inimitable wisdom, VA adjudicators have denied my claim and have sat on my appeal for well over a year now. Mind you, this isn’t simply Dan Gallagher’s story–in fact,
my experience is less heinous than that of many vets that I know. Rather, this is a tale that could be told by a disgustingly large percentage of American veterans filing a VA medical claim.
Why can’t the VA simply live up to, not only the larger pledge made to veterans by this country, but to their own guidelines? Why doesn’t “presumptive” mean “presumptive” to the VA’s adjudicators?
I occasionally question the overall quality of the adjudicative organ of the VA, but the bigger fault–’Dear Brutus’–is, I believe, to be found in the larger bureaucratic system, in an agency that has to dance with the twin devils of politics and budgetary restraints. And, whether overt or not, whether by design or merely part of a mechanical system, the VA still gives value, not to the generous number of veterans if favorably adjudicates, but to the amount of savings it can show and the denials or delays it imposes on its veteran-claimants. I’m sorry, but I truly believe that’s the way it is.
To conclude this discussion on a more positive note, I want to make it clear that I find the medical personnel at the VA exceptional–professional and personable and efficient. My Dr. Murney at the Missoula VA clinic, who has treated me for GERD symptoms for some time is stellar, as is the entire staff there. Now, if only the organizational procedures were of the same level of quality and compassion. But now let me tell you a bit about some things that veterans organizations do–aside from the emphasis on veterans’ well-being. I spent the better part of today as a member of American Legion Post #101, hiding Easter eggs for kindergartners through second-graders at St. Joseph’s school–and it was great! Even the blue skies and warm temperatures turned out to make it special.
Post #101, exercising its role as part of the larger American Legion organization has, since 1983, conducted this program, which is one of several for the community–especially for children and youth. We purchase the eggs (this year, 14 dozen) and the egg dye, we boil the eggs, and take them to the selected schools so the kids have the fun of coloring them. Then on the last day of school before Easter, we hide the eggs at a park and help conduct the hunt. It is impossible to feel down or depressed when watching several groups of dozens each of five-, six-, and seven-year-olds set out in search of the perfect Easter egg. The energy, the joy, the light in their eyes is therapeutic–is healing for aging veterans, in fact, for anyone with a heart. Thanks, kids, for giving me a day of smiles.
And finally, today, a World War II veteran, Meyer ‘Mike’ Chessin, has been awarded this year’s ‘Peacemaker of the Year’ award by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and the Missoula Peace Quilters. Congratulations, Mike. You were there for your country when called to war, you had the depth and the decency to feel what war does to humanity, and you have served for another half century as a voice for the cause of a war-free world.

Thank you for what you represent.

Tom Power Commentary: “Exporting Natural Gas: Undermining Energy Security and Econonomic Well-Being”

Increased supplies of natural gas, combined with the slow economic recovery from the Great Recession, have dramatically reduced natural gas prices in the United States. Competition from that cheaper natural gas also has put downward pressure on domestic coal use by electric generators, leading to reduced coal prices and the layoff of workers at many mines including those in Montana and Wyoming.
Oil production in the United States, including that associated with the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana, has also dramatically increased, boosting U.S. oil production to levels not seen for over two decades and turning around a relentless decline in U.S. oil production that began 40 years ago after peak production in 1970. But oil and gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high. Something seems wrong with the working of supply and demand when that increased domestic oil production doesn’t put downward pressure on the price we have to pay for oil and gasoline too.
But if we step back a bit, these divergent price paths for oil and natural gas make some sense. The natural gas we produce is largely landlocked because it is costly, and, some would say, dangerous, to liquefy that natural gas and load it on huge tankers to ship to Asia or Europe. The price that natural gas could fetch in Japan or Germany would be four times what it sells for in the U.S. But first it has to get there, and the U.S. doesn’t really have the gas liquefaction and port capacity in place to try to take advantage of those very high international price differences.

It is not surprising that American natural gas producers want to break out of their landlocked situation and ship their gas overseas to enjoy the higher prices there. In fact, the oil producers in the Bakken oil fields want the Keystone Pipeline for the same reason: The Bakken oil is being produced far from the markets that can use it. It represents a large local supply of oil that can drive down the price buyers are willing to pay because of the high costs of getting that oil to market. The Keystone Pipeline would allow Bakken oil to be shipped straight to oil refineries on the Gulf coast where it can then flow into international markets and claim a price that fully reflect world oil prices.
That brings us back to why oil and gasoline prices have not come down despite dramatic increases in U.S. oil production. The infrastructure for the shipping of petroleum from isolated locations like Saudi Arabia or the North Slope of Alaska to the rest of the world has been in place for a long time. There is a worldwide oil market off of which we as a nation have lived for a long time. That worldwide oil trade sets the value of oil in the U.S. as well as elsewhere in the world. We have no choice but to pay that world price if we want to import that oil and our oil producers can also use that world price to set the price they demand for domestic production.
We have all grumbled at times about being “over the barrel” (pun intended) when it comes to oil and gasoline prices and having to pay whatever the world demanded of us so that we could continue to feed our oil habit. But now, strangely, our political and business leaders are telling us that we should also commit ourselves to a worldwide market for natural gas. Those “leaders” repeatedly tell us about all of the jobs that will be created by building the infrastructure so that we can move that natural gas to port cities for export. They also remind us of the higher prices our domestic natural gas producers will be able to get if we facilitate that export.
What they do not tell us is that what is good for natural gas producers is not good for the rest of us. We currently have the benefits of natural gas at a relatively low price. That reduces the costs of operating our households. It is also attracting manufacturing activity back to the U.S. because that plentiful natural gas supply at a very low price gives us a competitive advantage.
Natural gas is also a relatively low carbon fuel. As a result, the increased production of natural gas in the U.S. could provide us with a transition fuel as we seek to maintain our economy while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Purposely linking the price of natural gas in the U.S. to the higher prices people elsewhere around the world have to pay for natural gas is a strategy to undermine the American economy and sabotage even further any hope of our getting our massive greenhouse gas emissions under control.
There is something strange going on here. The natural gas industry previously argued that expanding natural gas exploration and development to almost every acre of land in the nation where natural gas might be found would help us rebuild our energy independence and boost our energy security. Now they are urging us to ship these resources away and embrace higher natural gas prices in the U.S., leaving us exposed to the same market forces that most of us cursed when oil prices were sky-rocketing.
There appears to be no limit to the economic, social, and environmental damage that some folks seem to think is justified because a tiny minority can make a financial killing off of it. It is time to push back against the cynical use of “jobs” to justify almost anything and everything without regard for what it actually does to our nation.

Julia Altemus Commentary: “Those Relying on Timberlands Must Educate the Public”

A recent newspaper article stated that nearly three-fourths of Montana’s 100-member House of Representatives have less than two years experience. Thirty-nine members are freshman, and 32 are entering their second term. On the Senate side, 29 of the 50 state Senators are in their first or second term.

In addition to freshman legislators having to learn the layout of the Capitol, and rules of the House and Senate, they also have to have a wide body of knowledge regarding many issues at their disposal. With only 90 days to pass legislation addressing the concerns of their constituencies, the learning curve seems a mile wide and at times, an inch deep. Those that rely on timberlands for jobs and tax revenue must do a more effective job of educating a larger public and in turn our elected officials.

Our forests provide jobs, wood fiber for products, and fuel for heat and power, as well as clean water, air and habitat for terrestrial, aquatic and avian populations. Communities in and near forests depend upon them for economic and ecological sustainability. Yet, unless one is desperate for a breath of smoke-free air in the summer between Eureka and Ekalaka, forestry and forest management is not usually the topic of conversation around the dinner table.

Thirty-nine counties out of Montana’s 56 are forested. State forestland is managed for the school trust, federal forestlands are managed for multiple uses and private timberlands are managed for landowner objectives. Proper management of any forest requires cutting timber and thinning annual growth and mortality. On the surface these principles seem simple and straight forward, yet when a myriad of environmental laws, court decisions, public opinion and management plans are overlaid on current and desired future conditions, forest management becomes very complex.

Gratefully, I have observed a real eagerness to absorb as much information as possible from as many sources as possible, to ask questions, and to seek answers. Though the knowledge base (in some cases) may be reflective of newly elected representation, there is nearly universal comfort in the management of state and private timberlands.

This level of comfort does not transcend to federal forest management however. More and more, our state elected officials are seeking ways to affect management on National Forest System lands within our borders. Of Montana’s 93 million acres, twenty-two percent is forested. Sixty-six percent is under federal management and a mere 4 percent is state trust lands.

It’s this sixty-six percent that is not being effectively managed that causes concern. Presently, we are harvesting less than 10 percent of the annual growth on National Forest Service lands, and even less harvest occur in forests that are dead and dying. This decline in harvest and active management is one reason for the increase in the number and severity of forest fires. There is just too much wood fiber both vertically and horizontally.
Nationally, existing forest plans allow the harvest of 6.1 billion board feet. Yet in 2012 only 2.6 billion board feet were harvested or 42 percent of the allowable sale quantity. No wonder our elected officials, in both the state capitol and the county courthouse, are frustrated.

Restoring health to our forests is not only critical for long-term ecological sustainability, it is the single most efficient state and federal program for generating jobs in high unemployment, rural counties. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, every one million dollars invested in forest restoration creates 40 jobs, compared to 14 jobs in solar or 13 jobs in wind industries.

In Montana, roughly 7,000 people are employed in the forest products industry, generating $256 million in labor income and $314 million in direct sales. In addition, lumber production is the largest piece of Montana’s wood products manufacturing sector – in terms of number of employees, timber-processing, capacity, volume of timber used, volume of mill residue generated, and sales value of products. Montana sawmills produce roughly 3 percent of the softwood lumber production in the United States annually, which equates to 1.5 percent of the softwood lumber consumed in the U.S. every year.

Unfortunately, getting from forest to mill is a complex path. Our elected officials need to be familiar with state and federal laws, forest ecology, silvicultural practices, harvest methods, markets, well the list goes on. We sincerely appreciate the interest, questions and solutions to complex problems and vow to continue to seek ways to effectively make the case for forestry and forest management.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association.