My problem – my twenty-year problem – is that I have seen a lot of wildness lost, and none protected. Unfortunately, another of the Yaak’s superlatives involves our government’s propensity for road-building, particularly during the corporate liquidation era of the 1980s. The Yaak’s forest -- the Kootenai National Forest -- has nearly 10,000 miles of roads, many of them weed-smitten and sediment-dumping: more roads than any national forest in Montana.
And all without a single acre of wilderness designated in the Yaak.
Why isn’t the Yaak protected? While our little group can’t compete in constituency numbers or charitable giving, we can traffic in creative thinking, and for the last several years, we have been drafting a template which I think is finally ready to not only serve as the template for other place-based wilderness-and-community development agreements, but which is finally capable of securing a little bit of wilderness in the Yaak: a jump-start solution to a Montana issue too-long ignored.
Our little pro-wilderness, and pro-logging group, has often confused people in the mainstream environmental movement as well as in the timber industry, and sometimes even, for a while, in our local community. How can you be pro-wilderness and pro-logging, or pro-timber, some people ask. Part of the answer lies in the valley’s lushness as well as all those thousands of miles of roads that zipper-stitch and lattice so much of this still-living, still-vibrant, pulsing northern boreal forest. Many of those roads are in dire need of being treated for weeds and then decommissioned–a labor-intensive (and job-creating) task –but there are plenty of roads too, particularly in the developed front-country around the little towns of Troy, Eureka, and Libby, where those once-upon-a-time clearcuts of old have regenerated finally into explosive weedy thickets of overstocked fir and pine which, in addition to being upwind fuelboxes awaiting the dry hot winds of August and just the right crack of lightning, are also sucking up water and nutrients that could benefit the larger trees, and allow the forest to creep back toward a more natural condition, a healthy mosaic of very old and very young forests. As it stands now, we are largely missing the very old. (As much as 50% of the Yaak might once have been old growth; I’ve often thought it would be a wonderful project for a university student, or students, to map the old giant stumps, unrecorded ghosts and legacies of what was, before those stumps moulder back into non-history).
So our group has found places, a lot of places, where we agree that some wood could and even should be cut, under certain prescriptions and conditions (ideally, in the winter, to avoid disturbing the soil), utilizing some of those already existing open roads, and working in the overstocked stands next to people’s homes and communities. We have resurrected from the limbo of litigation the West Troy and South Sasumy projects, with modifications, in the hopes of reducing the alarming fuel loading of small diameter Douglas fir lying in a canyon directly downwind of Troy. (Removing much of the overstocked Doug fir would also benefit the remaining Ponderosa pines, some of which are quite large, but are on the verge of dying out, due to too much competition for not enough nutrients, and not enough moisture.)