Editor's Opinion

Lest we suspect that Grant County owns a special place on the firing line of litigation-prone environmentalists and a sluggish federal land-management bureaucracy, let's raise our heads and glance around the neighborhood.

Idaho and Montana have suffered their share of indignities in the seemingly never-ending War on the West. The latest casualties appear to be Elk City, Idaho, and Libby, Mont.

Elk City, located southeast of Lewiston in rural Central Idaho, is poised to lose its local lumber mill, according to the Associated Press. The mill is owned by Bennett Forest Industries of neighboring Grangeville. It makes one wonder, in these days when we desperately need forest-health work on our federal lands, why would Bennett Forest Industries close a lumber mill?

The answer is simple: "General Manager John Bennett has said there is not enough timber coming off the forest (the Nez Perce National Forest) to sustain the mill, and the Forest Service has been lax in harvesting the diseased trees in the drainage," the AP reports.

Now for the final touch of irony. The AP reports, "Mountain pine beetles have attacked lodgepoles on about 50,000 acres there and killed more than a million trees, according to Forest Service surveys. The high volume of dead trees has raised concerns of Elk City and Red River residents that a wildfire there could race out of control and threaten homes and lives."

Poor Elk City. The citizens can't pry a timber sale out of the hands of the federal government. As a result, citizens may lose not only their jobs to an unnecessary mill shutdown but also their property and homes to a catastrophic wildfire fueled by the untended conditions on neighboring federal forest lands.

Libby, located in northwestern Montana, knows too well the crisis which confronts Elk City. Libby already has watched the owners of Owens and Hurst of neighboring Eureka announce the closure of a sawmill in Libby.

"What we're losing is not just jobs and a business, but a family-owned, family-oriented business that represents the soul of rural Montana," lamented Bruce Vincent, executive director of Communities for a Great Northwest, in the "Eco-Logic Powerhouse" newsletter.

Well, maybe Owens and Hurst suffered from its own intransigence in the face of popular environmentalism. Is that possible? Not according to Vincent, who knows this country and the people there.

"In the discussion of the management of our forests in Montana, they have been the first to the table of debate to work on compromise, to work on collaboration, to lead constructive community debate over the future of the public trust that surrounds their operation," Vincent observes of Owens and Hurst.

So much for collaboration being the solution to environmentalist gridlock.

As usual, a federal judge sounded the death knell for Owens and Hurst's mill. As usual, the judge used frivolous and absurd paperwork requirements - not an actual environmental risk - to justify the shutdown of logging. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the lack of documentation of old growth habitat on the Kootenai National Forest forced a halt to the forest's timber-sale program.

Anybody else tired of this nonsense?

Maybe, while we're glancing around the neighborhood, we could peer a little farther and gaze into South Dakota. There, Sen. Tom Daschle introduced and passed legislation to exempt that state's salvage sales on federal lands from judicial review.

Wouldn't that be nice? Maybe it's time, if we're going to live on the firing line, to receive some protection. Maybe it's time to demand that our leaders provide us bullet-proof vests against the litigative slugs of environmentalist radicals. Otherwise, we might as well shut down our communities. Or we could move to South Dakota.

Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" can contact David Carkhuff by calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at editor@bluemountaineagle.com.

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