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Last year's fire season fanned the flames of controversy. Now, let's look at history, especially since much of it came from the Bitterroot. Our forests have always been managed for timber (and water) as per the Organic Act of 1897. Thirteen years later, as smoke and ash from fires in Montana and Idaho darkened the skies in D.C., the policy of 48-hour suppression was adopted to save those resources.

A mere 50 years later, the inanity of this policy became clear when large fires were uncontrollable, such as the Sleeping Child burn in Darby. The Forest Service planned the Meadow-Tolan sale to start restoring the natural vegetative mosaic. Something happened then that needs to be examined to see how we got in today’s danger.

Meadow-Tolan was dissimilar in many ways to the non-fire dependent eastern forests. The Bolle Report was correct about timber’s inappropriate priority in management. Both of these led to a serious contradiction.

Limiting clearcuts to 40 acres flies in the face of scientific management when applied to large continuous even-aged stands. It also was counterproductive as advanced roading to meet harvest quotas was increased. Forty-acre clearcuts in uneven aged stands were likewise “unscientific,” but used to make the cut.

But if you were a sincere environmentalist, why would you cause such contradictions and ignore forest ecology? Reagan did the same to the USSR – destroy your ideological opponent economically.

No more clear cuts attracted a movement more rhetorical than practical. It created a dichotomy among neighbors with common concerns and complicated resolutions.

At the Coffee Cup in Hamilton is a mural of photographs taken around early 1900s of the Bitterroots Front Rang. Note the absence of trees. Those foothills are now covered with dense stands of bull pine.

People now build houses in the pines. Arno’s research showed these areas burned every eight to 12 years. Complicating protection is the unpredictable influence of the side canyons. Knowledgeable and sincere environmentalists are likewise frustrated by those incised with rhetorical naivety in the search for solutions. In some, indeed today in many instances, logging is the answer.

– Rick Torre, Phillipsburg

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