Or so we’re told.
In the political arena, the debate over forest management is constantly reduced to a black-and-white, either-or proposition: Either we sacrifice our forests and quality of life to provide jobs, or we suffer economic hardship for the sake of environmental protection. We must choose new economic opportunities or stick with our traditional industries, like logging. Do you want working forests or protected playgrounds?
We write today as participants in Montana’s increasingly diverse economy – one of us, as founder of a cutting-edge geospatial information-technology company; the other, as chief operating officer of a wood products mill. You could call us representatives of Montana’s economy, new and old.
Together, we see that the jobs vs. environment argument and its variations are rhetorical fallacies, something known as a “false dilemma.”
As just one example, take the Montana Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, currently pending in the U.S. Senate. This bill mandates resource development and wilderness protection. FJRA promotes logging and forest restoration. It also provides protection for motorized recreation and primitive, backcountry forest use.
FJRA is based on a cooperative, win-win approach to forest management. And most Montanan’s recognize the reality that vast areas of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Lolo and Kootenai national forests are large and diverse enough to accommodate many needs, interests and opportunities.
We don’t have to choose one way or the other: We can protect some wild, remote areas as wilderness, and we can guarantee logging in other areas. We can use logging as a tool in forest restoration – improving forest health, water quality and wildlife habitat – as well as an engine for rural economies. In areas that we maintain for specifically for recreation, we have room for snowmobiles and ATVs over here and places for hikers and horsemen over there.
And the fact is, we’re better off economically when we take the kind of balanced approach FJRA promotes.
As a recent report from Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics shows, rural counties in the West with more than 30 percent of federal land protected as parks, wilderness, monuments and recreation areas have enjoyed a 345 percent growth in jobs over the past 40 years – more than quadruple the job growth of counties without protected lands.
But Montanans also recognize the need for a sustainable supply of timber to our remaining mills, while protecting some of our finest backcountry. And most Montanans acknowledge the importance of maintaining our wood products infrastructure that still supports over 6,000 timber industry jobs across the state.
Just take a look around Montana. We have natural resource industries AND vibrant tourism/ outdoor recreation industries and an ever-expanding range of new economic opportunities. Fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities are every bit as important as profit potential and wages in attracting entrepreneurs. We want to live here because of the high quality of life and natural beauty. We get to live here because it’s possible to make a living here. We enjoy living here because we have opportunities to play as well as work. One neighbor works with a bulldozer, another a computer. Some of us hunt on foot, deep in the backcountry, in the fall; ride snowmobiles in the winter; take the family fishing in the spring; and haul relatives out to drink in our scenery in the summer.
The reality of our forest relationships is precisely why the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is so pioneering and needs to be passed by Congress. Introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, FJRA is the product of years worth of constructive conversations by people throughout Montana. FJRA focuses on common ground – the areas of general agreement – that become easy to find once people focus on what they want from the forest instead of what they don’t want.
FJRA is a great example of the reality before us: We have a lot of choices between the extremes. And among them is the choice to work together as neighbors for mutual benefit instead of fighting over false choices.
Alex Philp is founder and president of GCS Research, a geospatial informational technology company in Missoula. Loren Rose is chief operating officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake.