Montana Wilderness Association Goes Off-The-Rails

If anyone saw the Missoulian on  November 16th it was hard not to notice an epic, off-the-rails rant from the Montana Wilderness Association’s ‘communications manager’ Ted Brewer (entirely propped up by strawman arguments) against longtime environmental and public lands champion George Ochenski. Here’s how Ted Brewer’s Montana Wilderness Association piece opened up:

Recently the Missoulian published two columns on its Opinion page that were, topically speaking, quite different. Psychologically speaking, however, they were quite similar.

One column claimed the U.S. government is controlling the weather through commercial airliner exhaust, known as “chemtrails.” The other was George Ochenski’s column claiming the Forest Service is using tax dollars to “buy” the support of conservation groups for logging, grazing and other resource extraction projects.

A friend of mine who used to work at a daily newspaper calls the Opinion page a “fact-free zone,” but these two conspiracy theories, printed on the same day, turned the Missoulian’s Opinion page into a paranoia playground, where President Obama makes it rain and an extravagantly funded Forest Service slips bags of cash to conservation groups while dining on filet of bull trout and leg of Canada lynx.

I’m the communications manager at Montana Wilderness Association, certainly one of the top entries on Ochenski’s list of enemies and a longtime, routine target of his column. (If Ochenski goes a few months without blasting MWA, I start to wonder if his mind might be slipping.) I’ve also been a writer for the past 20-odd years. I’ve written a fair number of magazine stories that have required me to dig for the sources that back my claims. It’s part of the job and the fun of doing credible journalism.

But once you start making outrageous claims without providing proof, then you’ve joined the ranks of birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots with personal and political axes to grind. That’s where we find Ochenski these days, so desperate to smear his enemies that he compares them to Nazis (yes, he did that) or tries to embroil them in controversies of his own paranoid concoction.

In the opinion piece, the Montana Wilderness Association compares Ochenski to “birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots.” The Montana Wilderness Association also calls on the Missoulian to replace George Ochenski (their very popular, weekly progressive columnist).

Apparently, what caused the Montana Wilderness Association to go completely off the deep end was the following information Ochenski included in a recent opinion column, in which he highlighted the comments by Wilderness Legend Stewart Brandborg (the only living person who was responsible for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964). Brandborg recently warned groups like MWA at a Wilderness Conference to “resist the fuzzy, fuzzy Neverland of collaboration,” because Brandborg believes that groups like MWA are giving up huge chunks of America’s public lands legacy in exchange for basically what amounts to some Wilderness crumbs.

What’s strange is that it’s absolutely no secret to anyone that for the past 10 years the Montana Wilderness Association has been ‘collaborating’ with the timber industry and others (sometimes in secret meetings, such as during the formation of the Beaverhead Partnership) to dramatically increase industrial logging on public National Forests in Montana through politicians simply mandating higher logging levels.

Not only this, but the Montana Wilderness Association has also gone to court to support more public lands logging in Montana. For example, just last month the Montana Wilderness Association took the incredible step of actually intervening in a timber sale lawsuit on the Kootenaa National Forest. The logging project MWA is in federal court supporting actually calls for nearly 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat.

Even more amazing is the fact that the Montana Wilderness Association is being represented in court supporting this timber sale by timber industry lawyers from the American Forest Resource Council. That’s right! The very same timber industry lawyers at the American Forest Resource Council who sued to stop the Roadless Area Conservation Rule are now representing the Montana Wilderness Association in court to support 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat on the Kootenai National Forest.

Here’s the part of George Ochenski’s column (in his own words, not in the lies and twisted strawman arguments of the Montana Wilderness Association) that sent the Montana Wilderness Association over the cliff:

If one wants to see where millions of federal taxpayer dollars have gone to buy collaborative partners, check out this link from the Southwest Crown of the Continent laying out the Forest Service’s publicly funded largesse to groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and many more.

This scheme pays taxpayer funds to private groups that provide ‘in-kind services’ to collaborate with the federal agency’s goals, many of which are directly connected to increased logging, grazing and resource extraction from public lands under the rubric of ‘forest health’ or ‘restoration.’

Yes, the truth is that the Forest Service is actually giving ‘collaborators’ with multi-million non-profit groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Trout Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation millions of taxpayer dollars to help manage public lands! In the case of the Montana Wilderness Association, they collected $100,000 in taxpayer money from the U.S. Forest Service to do trail work on Forest Service lands. Isn’t that an incredibly slippery slope that threatens to compromise the “Keep It Public” mantra we so often hear from these groups? Wouldn’t it be better for taxpayer money to simply fund the U.S. Forest Service to do its job, rather than having the Forest Service give this taxpayer money to multi-million non-profit groups who ‘collaborate’ with the Forest Service?

Honestly, given the Montana Wilderness Association very well-documented love affair with ‘collaboration’ and given the Montana Wilderness Association’s very well-documented demands for more taxpayer-subsidized public lands logging on National Forests in Montana (despite terrible lumber markets, despite global economic realities, etc) it’s just bizarre why MWA would be so upset with George Ochenski for pointing out the fact that MWA and other groups have been able to collectively get millions of dollars to hire their own staff and get paid for their volunteers to manage our public lands.

As Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition recently pointed out:

While these funds on the one hand enable partners to do some monitoring and watershed restoration work by repairing or decommissioning roads, it also appears to silence public criticisms by partners of the more controversial timber sales being conducted under the guise of “forest restoration.” Moreover, some SWCC partners have collectively promoted“restoration” logging and asked Congress to work with collaborators and not with “organizations and individuals who oppose collaborative approaches to forest management.

If you love America’s National Forests and our tremendous public lands legacy please don’t be lulled to sleep by groups like the Montana Wilderness Association.

The bottom line is that some of these very well-funded, multi-million groups are using ‘collaboration’ in an attempt to greatly increase public lands logging (including MWA’s well-documented calls for politicians to simply mandate huge increases in National Forest logging levels), while at the same time they are using ‘collaboration’ to secure huge chunks of taxpayer funds (via the Forest Service) in order to increase their staff size and essential embark down that slippery slope where the management of America’s National Forests is essentially ‘out-sourced’ and ‘privatized.’

17 Comments

  1. I’d like to corroborate your curiously-familiar and not-coincidental observations of taxpayer/foundation-funded “collaboration” by proxy “Wilderness” advocates deciding the fate of public lands, while executing the agendas of private interests, Matthew.

    This comedy of terrors has also occurred on the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska, complete with “secret meetings” to negotiate outcomes of future legislation. However, the “Tongass Futures Roundtable,” (TFR) administered by The Nature Conservancy, and enabled by participation of the Alaska chapter of Trout Unlimited and The Wilderness Society (et al) — suffered such an ignominious defeat, as to require a thorough scrubbing of the TFR website (tongassfutures.net) and the incriminating 6 year history of collaborative agreements it contained.

    Epilogue: beware, the USFS simply used TFR and its agenda as a training camp for the enlistment of the second echelon of collaborative conservation insurgents. In the ashes of TFR, arose the Tongass Advisory Committee ( http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/home/?cid=stelprdb5444388 ) — another taxpayer-funded, FACA-enabled, agency-convened, agency-constructed, agency-advised and directed, financially-conflicted confabulation including Trout Unlimited and, The Nature Conservancy-affiliated appointees — entitled with collaboration on directing the course of events on amendments to the Tongass Land Management Plan under the new Planning Rule.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    As can be expected of a captured agency in collaboration with captured non-profits profiting off of “Stewardship and Restoration” under the collaboration model– each advancing the industry agenda in 4 part harmony — the Pattern, remains the same.

    • “Paranoia may destroy ya” ~~~ Ray Davies

      Your “captured agency” accusations represent an insult to each and every Forest Service employee. Your “Power Painter” continues to be much more efficient than just your “broad brush”.

      The link between collaboration and the Wilderness Act is very, very weak. Just how many of those eco-groups will come out and say they want a more “extractive” change to the Wilderness Act?!?

      • Agency and regulatory capture should be an insult to each and every citizen expecting a functioning democracy, Larry. Denial of this state of capture does not mean it does not exist.

        The evidence is overwhelming and best exemplified by how the USFS treats its Whistleblowers. Here’s a 2007 post of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website documenting how Abigail Kimbell was rewarded by the same agency you claim isn’t captured:

        Washington, DC — The new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Abigail Kimbell, was responsible for the largest reprisal action ever undertaken against agency whistleblowers, according to documents posted today by two whistleblower advocacy groups. In all, Kimbell purged 44 whistleblowers while she was Supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Of those 44, eight ultimately won a $200,000 settlement with the agency in 2003, while Ms. Kimbell was promoted to Regional Forester.

        http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2007/02/01/new-forest-service-chief-has-checkered-past/

        • Yep, an 8 year old incident proves that every employee is in lock-step with the evil timber barons?

          Just for the record, I was never “captured” by anyone in my 25 year career. I have “saved” a vast amount of trees in my career by simply walking by them and not putting blue paint on them.

          • http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/usda-sued-to-end-scientific-censorship.html

            USDA SUED TO END SCIENTIFIC CENSORSHIP
            Unconstitutional Restraints on Publishing and Weak Integrity Protections at Issue

            Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture should stop censoring scientific findings for political reasons and significantly strengthen its Scientific Integrity Policy, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit targets official restraints on USDA scientists publishing or speaking about their findings in peer-reviewed journals, before professional societies, and in other unofficial settings.

            This March, PEER filed a formal rulemaking petition pressing USDA to end censorship policies and to bolster its extremely weak Scientific Integrity Policy adopted in 2013. The petition asked USDA to adopt “best practices” from other federal agencies’ integrity policies and to end politically driven suppression or alteration of studies. In a letter dated June 11, 2015, USDA Chief Scientist Catherine Wotecki wrote that the agency refused to consider the substance of the petition because scientific integrity only affected its “internal personnel rules and practices” and was therefore exempt from the public notice and comment process normally required of agency rules.

            • “Censorship of public agency science does not affect only scientists – it concerns the public at large as well as every entity relying upon the integrity of USDA science,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is also representing USDA scientists alleging official harassment flowing from scientific work which upsets agribusiness “stakeholders.” “USDA cannot piously pledge its devotion to scientific integrity while at the same time rebuffing any attempts to safeguard it.”

              PEER cites instances of USDA scientists ordered to retract studies, water down findings, remove their name from authorship, and endure long indefinite delays in approving publication of papers that may be controversial. Media requests for interviews with scientists are either indefinitely delayed or denied. Of particular concern is a gag order barring release of any scientific work reflecting on any federal policy:

              “…scientists should refrain from making statements that could be construed as being judgments of or recommendations on USDA or any other federal government policy, either intentionally or inadvertently.”

              “USDA may not screen submissions to peer-reviewed journals for their political implications,” added Ruch, pointing out that USDA scientists use their agency affiliation for purposes of identification and the journal articles are not “owned” by the agency. “USDA is not entitled to its own set of facts to alter or suppress at will.”

              • Ultra-narrow studies that excludes variables and/or cherry-picks conditions and results, and has conclusions that aren’t applicable to Federal projects should not be allowed to affect the management of our National Forests. For example: Studies of private salvage logging practices should not have the conclusions applied to Federal salvage projects. Similarly, it should be the same for the logging of green trees, in Federal thinning projects, where “industrial logging” is not used. It is like “bait and switch”.

                • This reply of yours Larry, is unfortunately, unintelligible as was your last. Please try again, (and again.) Your latest straw man argument, (“proves that every employee is in lock-step with the evil timber barons”) was your own desperate invention and of course, not my assertion at all.

                  Your former reply denied any relevance to my assertion of the USFS as a captured agency.

                  This assertion was based upon the agency’s lurid and storied history of whistleblower retaliation. The quintessential example I posted was from 2007: the premiere retaliator and intimidator of USFS whistle-blowers (former Tongass National Forest Supervisor, Abigail Kimbell) getting promoted to the highest position of the agency –“Chief of the USFS,” after purging 44 agency whistle-blowers, and resulting in taxpayer-paid reparations ($200,000.00) compensating the victims of Chief Kimbell’s past indiscretions concerning her whistleblower retaliations. These retaliations were against agency employees putting their professional careers on the line to assuage their senses of morality and professional consciences while working for a captured agency.

                  Personally, I think this past documented history of retaliation is relevant and demonstrative of my original assertion of agency capture. You denied its relevance based upon the implication that, ‘that was then (8 years ago), this is now.”

                  I’d assured you there were many more examples. There certainly are, but how could I pass up the opportunity presented the very next day providing the most current example? The venerable non-profit organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), posted a press release the day after your denial. Their post was specific to announcing they were filing a lawsuit challenging the current USDA (parent to the USFS ) policy of muzzling their scientists from publishing their peer-reviewed research in internationally recognized Journals.

                  Scientific censorship is on an equal standing with whistle blower retaliation when it comes to demonstrating evidence of the present state of agency capture.

                  Were it not for the spectacle of “Denial! (-despite-the-facts!)” you provide in these responses, I would not be bothered to continue this discussion. I say this despite the fact that i could list five more documented examples and you would predictably provide 5 more unqualified denials.

                  So again, I seem to have missed the validity of your points rooted in personal opinion. Perhaps you could cite something more credible than your personal predilection for denial, despite this history of documented evidence contradicting your opinions.

                  • Well, ya know, if you have ANY solid evidence, by all means, bring it to the Forest Service, because the rules and laws state that even the appearance of corruption is a firing offense, and you can have that particular individual relieved of their duties. If that isn’t a clear enough path, then you have ZERO case. Your statement of a “captured agency’ means that their employees are corrupt. It cannot be “captured” unless all of them are are doing “bad things” that aren’t allowed by Federal Law.

                    Otherwise, you are merely insulting people you don’t agree with. Frankly, I think that most people here don’t agree with your constant accusations, which just aren’t true, “One-Note” David.

                    There’s all sorts of “bad science” out there, which doesn’t deserve to be addressed by the Forest Service, and it is not a bad thing to to eliminate such studies from consideration, due to inapplicable situations, or cherrypicked conclusions. I really don’t think it is the public’s place to judge which studies are applicable. For example, “industrial logging” has been shown to be bad for wildlife species but, since the Forest Service doesn’t do that style of logging in Region 5, we can safely ignore calls to end all “industrial logging” in California National Forests. The conclusions that some people make is that “industrial logging” is bad, so ALL logging is bad.

                    It’s the very same issue for salvage logging, where some people want to completely eliminate every form of salvage logging, while studies only address how loggers do it on private lands.

                    Those eco-semantic practices involve HUGE strawmen and massive ignorance of established science. (Edit: I have to extend that semantics finger at the other side, too. There are plenty of examples of bait and switch, as Matt often finds.)

                    • Good morning Larry. Please leave me out of this, or at least please provide concrete evidence and examples to prove what you are apparently claiming I do. Thanks.

                    • Actually, I was merely saying that your oversight is valued, from my point of view, Matt. If you don’t like a particular action, it is worth taking a second look at, unlike some of the other activist types out there, with their “Chicken Little” mindsets. You pick your battles wisely (other than this morning’s minor gaffe). I meant to say that Matt often finds those bait and switch situations that the Forest Service uses to push their preferred alternatives. (I can’t get any clearer than that!)

  2. Hi Matthew-
    It makes me sad to admit that I’ve come to seriously doubt the veracity of many claims coming from both sides of this endless purist v. collaborator blame game. IMHO, the continuous use of hyperbolic language and the stridency with which the arguments are made is doing severe damage to the credibility of both sides, and thus to the environmental movement in general.

    In defense of the purist side of the I’m well aware of the falsity of the accusations labeling every lawsuit “frivolous.” I also find little merit in the accusation that your side is overtly seeking to profit from the EAJA. These are just two of many examples that I just simply label B.S. coming from those who would attack your positions.

    Conversely, in defense of the collaborator side, I think the purists constantly use words that do not accurately describe what is actually happening on the ground. You’d accuse the collaborators of using language that is euphemistic; however, I see far too much language coming from the purists that is hyperbole. Example: the incessant use of the historically emotion laden word “clearcut.” The term gets thrown out there to evoke in people’s minds the image of smoking stump fields as far as the eye can see. All that’s missing is the Lorax shedding a tear. I’m pretty sure that’s not what is happening on the ground these days on Federal Lands.

    So why the continued use of the term? I guess I wonder: what is a clearcut in your mind?

    Thanks

    • Hi Eric,

      I generally agree with what you are saying RE: some people’s use of the word ‘clearcut.’ I also think the term is overused by some people (almost as a general replacement for the word ‘logging’) and I’ve honestly brought my concern to these folks before.

      Personally, I tend/try to use the term ‘clearcut’ in connection with a specific timber sale, based on what the USFS calls a ‘clearcut’ in the logging project.

      However, to be certain, the U.S. Forest Service (as an agency, and not necessarily on every National Forest unit) still ‘clearcuts’ our National Forests.

      • Many Forests have solid diameter limits that insure that no clearcutting happens, without banning clearcutting, outright. Other places, like the Sierra Nevada National Forests, came right out and banned both clearcutting and old growth harvesting, back in 1993. We often see private logging practices wrongfully attached to the Forest Service. “Industrial logging” is another term that is often wrongly used. When the average “cut-tree” diameter is around 15″, that surely isn’t “industrial logging”.

        Personally, I think those tactics reek of desperation. When Chad Hanson promised clearcuts in the Rim Fire salvage, and they never showed up, I’m thinking his credibility is continuing to sink, both in the scientific community and the courts.

    • As I have said before, we need to continue the process of going through those three “C-words”. I’ve said, all along, that getting by the Consensus part would be the most awkward and painful. The problem is that both extremes want to reach their own compromise, without reaching consensus. Our best tool is full transparency, spotlighting the activities of both extremes (as well as those in the middle). Matt is a good “spotlight”, and it forces everyone to take a look and decide whether such activities should be happening. It is important to me that the Forest Service “walks their talk”. Both extremes have their blind followers, and way too many of them are very vocal.

      Another anti-eco saying going around is; “Log it, graze it, or burn it”. No, I don’t think they are talking about thinning, prescribed fires and fuels projects. It is clear to me that both sides have not learned enough to reach a consensus (just look at comment sections in forestry-related newspaper articles), then quickly go on to compromises that work the best.

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