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They're Taking Our Village

 

 Over 100 Turn Out for Timber Meeting

Bruce Vincennt, Cary Hegreberg
speak on shortcomings of
Inner Columbia River Basin
Environmental Impact Statement

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder

According to timber industry representatives, the federal government is going to take our villages if a new regional forest plan is implemented next year. The new government plan, they say, would replace exisiting forest plans and likely force sawmill closures throughout the Northwest.

At a meeting last week in Seeley Lake, Cary Hegreberg, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association, and Bruce Vincent, president of Environomics, presented information about the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP), a $35 million project that, over the past four years produced a three-inch-thick draft document recommending drastic changes in Forest Service policies. About 100 people turned out to learn about the new plan.

The ICBEMP would change the way every National Forest in the Northwest manages its land, and according to both Vincent and Hegreberg, it calls for a drastic reduction of commercial timber harvest, increased use of fire as a mangement tool, and aggressive road destruction and road closures on every ranger district.

According to Bruce Vincent, the plan assumes that in rural communities such as Seeley Lake, Eureka, Libby, Troy and others, income from tourism and recreation will enable busineses to recover from the loss of federal timber.

"When I read things that said we are not a timber dependent community, then I doubted everything else in the plan," Vincent said, referring to his home town of Libby. "I don't think Libby can live on that, (tourism) and I don't think Seeley Lake can, either," he said.

 

Cary Hegreberg, left, and Bruce Vincent use maps to explain potential impacts of ICBEMP on the timber industry, especially smaller, independent mills like Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc., in Seeley Lake.

 

G. Noland Photo

When Vincent asked some of the people involved in writing the new plan how much tourism it would take in Libby to replace the money generated by the timber industry there, he was told $100 million per year. "That's a million tourists spending $100 each. What are we going to do? Set up roadblocks and take wallets and purses?" he said.

Although Vincent said there was "some good science" in the plan, he emphasized that the social and economic portions of the plan were troublesome.

"It looks more like a social engineering document with a political agenda that was determined in advance," he said.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the project, he said, is that it circumvents local planning and collaborative efforts.

"How can there be local control if all the decisions are made in Boise?" he said. "There is no local control with this. It's a one-size-fits-all plan. . . They strangle people's ability to do things locally."

Residents should comment on the ICBEMP, Vincent said, before the February 6 deadline. "Thank them for the science. Then tell them, 'Now give it to us locally so we can make good decisions here at home," he said, adding, "We need the science. We don't need the standards and we don't need the agenda."

Doug Mood, vice president of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, agreed with Vincent's assessment that the new plan represents a political, rather than scientific, approach to forest management.

"At the very time when good things are happening with local forest management, here's top-down control," Mood said.

During a recent interview, Mood said that the Seeley Lake mill has gone through dramatic changes in the past ten years in response to a large reduction in Forest Service timber that began in 1988.

Ten years ago Pyramid bought 80-90% of its timber from the Forest Service, and another 10-20% from private landowners. By 1995-96, those figures had reversed: only 18-20% of their logs came from Forest Service land, with 80% coming from private landowners.

Timber from private lands represents a finite source, Mood explaned. "That was never intended to be a solution to the lack of Federal timber," Mood explained. "Since 1988 we thought we'd see some relief, a move toward a more stable supply from the Forest Service. Instead, we've seen the opposite," he said. "And now we see the Sierra Club calling for zero timber harvest on federal land," he said.

Pyramid Mountain Lumber, he said, is very concerned about ICBEMP, adding that, "We'd be fools to ignore it."

Ten years ago, Pyramid spent $10 million a year on logs, and 100% of that money went to landowners in a 50-mile radius of Seeley Lake. Today, less than half of the money the mill spends on logs goes to people in the Seeley Lake area. Pyramid today buys logs in areas over 300 miles away. "We don't have the option of going out 500 miles instead of 300," Mood explained. "We're stretched out as far as we can go to keep the mill operating," he said.

The crowd was somber during the meeting, reflecting the dire predictions of mill closures and loss of jobs throughout western Montana, if the new plan is implemented.

Cary Hegreberg asked those in attendance to think about what kind of community Seeley Lake would be without Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company. Pyramid, he said, directly employs more than 115 people and pays about $4 million a year in wages. "That's money that's making mortgage payments, car payments. . . money that's circulating through all the businesses in this town," Hegreberg said.

Hegreberg named several Montana mills that have closed in recent years, as a result of changes in timber supplies. "Unemployed mill workers and loggers are not going to spend money in your community," he said, adding that, "One sad reality is that families are the first to move away when a sawmill closes."

People who would like to comment on the ICBEMP may receive a copy of the three-inch thick draft document by writing or calling Upper Columbia River Basin EIS TEam, 304 8th Street, Room 250, Boise, Idaho 83702, phone (208) 334-1770, or FAX (208) 334-1769. For additional information contact Communities for a Greater Northwest at (406) 293-8844, or FAX (406) 293-4739, or via computer at cgnw@libby.org

Cary Hegreberg with Doug Mood of Pyramid in the background

"They're Taking Our Village"

(Complete Text of Cary Hegreberg's Opening Comments at Town Meeting)
by Cary Hegreberg, Seeley Lake Presentation

Greetings. It's great to be here in Seeley Lake. Thank you all for coming. And I would also like to thank Pyramid Mountain Lumber for hosting this event. You folks are among the most fortunate communities in the state in having the Johnsons and the Moods as the owners of this mill. They are com-mitted to this community and to the future of our industry.

Some of you may remember shortly after President Bill Clinton was elected he was granted an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. In typical Clinton fashion, immediately after the session, he hastily called a news conference at which he pro-claimed to the world that he and the Pope had a highly successful and productive meeting. He announced they had agreed on six of the 10 is-sues they discussed. The Pope also arranged a press conference immedi-ately after the meeting and issued a brief statement indicating he and President Clinton had spent an encouraging hour discussing the Ten Commandments.

With politics, it's always a mat-ter of perception and spin doctor-ing. To describe how the federal gov-ernment is treating rural Mon-tana, Bruce Vincent and I put our own spin on the title of Hillary Clinton's book, They're Taking Our Village. Communities throughout Montana and the West evolved and prospered with the help and partnership of the federal government. Now, they are taking our village. And they seem to want us to feel good about it.

The forest products industry is sponsoring meetings like this throughout western Montana because we are hoping to build a bridge of understanding between us and local community leaders. And because we are asking for help. We are reaching out because our sense of community bonds us together - sometimes in ways we take for granted.

Last summer, during the 4-H livestock auction at the Broadwater County Fair, I watched R-Y Timber, the local sawmill, purchase the grand champion hog, grand champion lamb, and steer, along with several other animals, including my daughter's lamb. Most of the other projects were purchased by similar agricul-ture, mining, and timber-related businesses. Every community has activities and organizations that define its unique character and require support in the form of both time and money.

When you think about why you choose to live here, isn't it the rural lifestyle, church activities, community events and school functions that make Seeley Lake and the Swan Valley a special place to live? What are the events, activities and organi-zations that bring friends and family together, making up the fabric of your community? Who attends, organizes, or financially supports these community functions? I raise my family in Townsend and I know who organizes and supports the county fair, the rodeo, the beef barbecue in the park, the parade, the 4-H program and dozens of school programs. And I can tell you in Townsend, it damn sure isn't the Sierra Club.

The chairman of the U of M Economics Department, Tom Pow-ers, is frequently quoted saying the future of western Montana is in recreation and service-based industries. Natural resource industries are no longer necessary, he says, because people will move here and visit here to enjoy our natural landscapes and take part in our high quality of life. Recreation and tourism are important, and I'm not disputing that, especially here in Seeley Lake. But isn't the quality of life in this area a function of the people who live here and the organizations and activities you are involved in? And what en-ables people in rural Montana communities to have the quality of life coveted by others?

I asked Roger and Doug to provide some information about the economic role they play in this community. Consider for a moment that about $4 million circulates through your local economy every year from wages paid by Pyramid.

Logging contracts, which unfortunately are now spread out for hundreds of miles, total about an-other $4 million. That is $8 million making mortgage and car payments, buying groceries, gasoline, hardware and local restaurant meals. Pyramid also spends several million dollars each year purchasing logs, as much as possible from local landowners. All that money circulates in the local economy as loggers buy fuel, tires, equipment and repairs. Pyramid buys $200,000 worth of diesel fuel every year, which is peanuts compared to what their logging contractors pur-chase. The utility bill is half a mil-lion dollars a year, the largest cus-tomer of your local cooperative. Pyramid averages about $2 million a year in equipment purchases and repairs, much of that going to Missoula businesses.

Beyond the wages and purchases of goods and services in the commu-nity, there are the charitable contri-butions made by the industry to school and civic activities. Pyramid's contributions to local activities like the popular YMCA swim program, school activities and United Way to-tal almost $10,000 a year. To en-courage employees to support the community, Pyramid actually matches their contributions to United Way, up to $1500. What has the Swan View Coalition or Friends of the Wild Swan done lately for the organizations and activities that de-fine the character of this community?

I'm not here to brag about the timber industry. I am wondering with you what kind of community this would be without the forest products industry. Imagine the eco-nomic and social tragedy if Pyramid was forced to shut down because they can no longer purchase logs from the national forest. In addition to 130 mill employees who would instantly lose their jobs at the mill, dozens more people harvesting and hauling logs will lose their jobs.

Then there is the ripple effect. What happens to the personal and business loans extended by local banks? Who purchases fuel, parts, equipment, mechanical and welding services?

Tire shops will feel the pinch with fewer log trucks, chip trucks, skidders, loaders, and pickups in use. I would guess there is more than one business represented here tonight whose biggest customers are the sawmill and logging contractors. Unemployed loggers and mill work-ers aren't as likely to eat breakfast at the local cafe or take the family out for a meal before the football game. One thing is for sure, families with children are the first to leave town because they have to find employ-ment. School enrollment falls, tax base declines, teachers are laid off, and it becomes a downward spiral. The tiny little town of Judith Gap just learned their sawmill is closing. In Superior, where the mill closed a couple of years ago, school enroll-ment has dropped dramatically as long-time families have moved away.

Unlike agricultural areas of eastern Montana, economic and mar-ket conditions are not the major threat to rural communities. The consumer market for lumber is stronger than ever. The supply is there. The Lolo National Forest, and virtually all other national forests in the region, are growing substantially more timber than is being harvested. In fact, more trees are dying than are being harvested. In short, common sense says the timber industry could, and should, be an integral part of this community for decades to come.

Politics, however, are a signifi-cant threat, and preventing the federal government from taking our village will mean local people voicing concern about policies that threaten our communities. Specifically, we are here to talk about the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, which we will refer to as ICBEMP from here on. Bruce Vincent, tonight's main attraction, will give a thorough review of the project, but I wanted to discuss some of the social and economic analysis contained in the ICBEMP environ-mental impact statement.

Now, before I go any further, I would like to make a distinction be-tween the local forest service offi-cials who are truly trying to work out solutions, and the nebulous federal government we refer to as "they."

Tim Love is one of the most committed and dedicated Forest Ser-vice employees around and he is trying to be creative and innovative. Unfortunately, from our perspective, the higher you go on the Forest Ser-vice food chain, the less support people like Tim get. So, when we refer to the federal government as they, please realize we are considering Tim Love and his staff as part of "we."

According to the EIS, you are fortunate to be in Missoula County, which has a high socio-economic re-siliency rating, unlike Sanders, Min-eral, Lincoln, Powell and most other Montana counties. Only 4 percent of Missoula County residents are employed in natural resources - meaning timber, agriculture and min-ing, according to the EIS - despite the fact that Stone Container, Stimson Lumber, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, and hundreds of loggers and truckers live in Missoula County - not to mention the farmers and ranchers. Missoula County has one of the 29 recognized places in the region which "may be sensitive to levels of public timber harvest," and you're it. The EIS states that while 43 percent of the land in your county is national forest, only 14 percent of the avail-able timber is on the national forest. Another table shows you have only a moderate reliance on federal timber, probably a reflection of the large holdings of Plum Creek Timber Co. in Missoula County. In other words, what the EIS is saying to you is that your timber-dependent community is only moderately sensitive to the amount of timber harvested on the national forests that contain nearly all the timber supply. But at least the EIS is honest with you. Libby, St. Regis, Troy, Plains, and Columbia Falls are not considered timber dependent.

Let's take a look at how ICBEMP is defining the value of federal lands to society. "Of the value provided society by the Forest Ser-vice and BLM lands in the Basin by the year 2045, the existence of un-roaded areas provides 41 percent, recreation provides 53 percent, tim-ber provides 5 percent, and range provides less than one percent."

Just knowing that roadless lands exist in the Lolo or Flathead Na-tional Forest is eight times more valuable to society than timber production.

Try selling diesel fuel or tire chains to the fictitious New Jersey soccer mom who values the existence of roadless areas in Montana eight times more than Pyramid values the timber. Try making bank loans with the existence of roadless lands as collateral. For all those urban desk jockies who supposedly place high value on roadless lands and recreation opportunities on the National Forest, how many would dig into their pockets to support a Seeley/Swan school bond? How many would realistically ever show up and pay a measly $10 to hike in a roadless area? And will these hypothetical people who place phantom value on recreation and the roadless character of federal land help send your local kids to the YMCA swimming program?

I'm going to quit now and let Bruce give you more background in ICBEMP. But folks, we are truly at a crossroads in timber communities like Seeley Lake. You've been hear-ing the timber industry call wolf for years. The threat is real. The wolf at-tacked in Judith Gap two weeks ago. A couple months ago it was Rexford. Mills have closed in Dillon, Darby, Libby, Superior, Drummond, and Thompson Falls. Let's stop the wolf from taking our villages. Thank you.

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Seeley Swan to Welcome

Communities | Recreation | Real Estate | Events | Lodging
Local History | Churches | Businesses | News & Features