Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cooperation among politicians, environmentalists and timber industry could help save Montana's small towns, among other laudable goals

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times about efforts to save Montana's timber industry as demand for wood products plummets in the economic downturn. The dateline is Seeley Lake, population 1,436, which is northeast of Missoula, and the tale is one of cooperation among environmentalists, the industry, and politicians. Here's the lede:
A scramble is under way here in Montana to save the historically important, culturally resonant timber industry — once a pillar of the state’s identity, now under siege as demand for housing and wood products has plummeted in the national economic downturn.
The reasons for saving Montana's "roughly 200 interconnected sawmills, pulp buyers and family-owned tree-cutting contractors" are environmental as well as economic. Those with the skills to work the woods helps keep them both beautiful and safe. Mary Sexton, who directs the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, explains: “Our fear is that we could lose our infrastructure — the base of knowledge and experience of working in the forest.”

Here's the part that implicates saving Montana's towns by fending off real estate development and speculation.

Groups like the Wilderness Society, which is working on contracts to expand lower-cost wood supplies to mills . . . say that working forests with controlled harvests of trees are healthier, safer and more likely to be preserved, and that small towns like Seeley Lake with an anchoring employer are less prone to real estate speculation and development.

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