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Dark Hearts, Wild Things : ON A GLORIOUS MOUNTAINTOP, WHAT SHOULD BE A PURE MOMENT MIXES WITH THE SADNESS AND FRIGHT OF WHAT'S GOING ON BELOW

August 02, 1992|Rick Bass | Rick Bass is an essayist and author who lives in Troy, Mont. His latest book is "Winter: A Journey to Montana," published by Seymour Lawrence

I spend the mornings locked in my little pack-rat office, writing letters to the congressmen in D.C. who will decide the fate of public lands up here. * In the afternoons, to calm my rage and sorrow, I get out and go hiking--crawling through the cedar jungles, stumbling clumsily down ravines into trickling streams and then climbing, all afternoon, to some windy peak of God, so that I can get a view of my valley--of what's here, and of what's gone. * What's here on this cold but sunny June day in the Yaak Valley--the most northwestern valley in Montana, the farthest reach of this country's northern Rockies--is a small stretch of land without roads. Despite this valley's and this forest's (Kootenai National Forest's) history of having produced, year after year, the most timber in the state of Montana--the giant trees being cut rapacity long before any of us were born--there is still a little roadless area left. * I get wound up like this. What I mean to say is there's not any protected wilderness in this strange, wonderful valley. A few of the local conservation groups are trying to pass a Montana wilderness act (Montana and Idaho are the only two heavy logging states that haven't yet passed such an act; they've been trying for more than 20 years now), and it's a battlefield. Logging activists have dug at the tender wound of job security. Mechanization in the mills and a soft market for timber have at times pushed unemployment above 20% in my county, Lincoln County. * It's a brutal time here, right now. Often there is barbaric rage--on both sides. * What I mean to say is, I spend the mornings writing letters--by God, I'll smother those sons-of-bitches with the sheer volume of my mail, my letters and postcards if nothing else; if not the truth and reason of what I tell, then the mass of it. * Most of northwestern Montana, and certainly most of my tiny, wild valley, has already been logged, over and over again--but a small portion hasn't; and what the proposed Montana wilderness act wants to decide is this: which undeveloped parts of the federal lands we will release to the local private interests--chum, raw meat to the sharks. And then, from that same question: What areas of the federal lands do we protect from road building and logging? * Some groups up here got together to form a compromise (the Kootenai-Lolo Accords), a local solution to a federal problem. There's some big timber in these last few remaining roadless areas, and until some act is passed, it's "tied up" under President Jimmy Carter's (remember him?) Roadless Area Review and Evaluation Program.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 4, 1992 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
For the Record: The article "On Grizzly Peak" (by Rick Bass, Aug. 2) incorrectly identified Montana's Lincoln County as the largest by land size in that state. Actually, several Montana counties exceed Lincoln in area.

If an act is passed, the sawmills could rush in--a land swarm--and build roads leading to those last big trees.

And in selling out those areas, we, the conservation community (in Lincoln County, "environmentalist" is the worst epithet imaginable) would get, via compromising, to protect and preserve--forever--a few wild places. Not so much for us, but for our children and children's children--and for the wild things.

The local groups that participated in forming this compromise made a small wish list of the 10 (a nice even number) favorite spots in this part of northwestern Montana.

It was almost entirely political, the conservationists hedging bets, trying to guess what areas the private loggers wouldn't miss too much--rock, snow and ice--as if it were the loggers' domain and not the country's to begin with. And truth be told, in some ways it is the loggers' domain; the strength of history and culture provides a chitinous overgrowth that can easily encrust justice and reality. The past can dominate the present.

What the compromising groups came up with was this: Ninety-eight percent of the area's available timber base would be set open to the hounds of logging, to the saws and dozers, and 2% of the timber would be protected for little babies--babies not even born--a new history, or the edge of a new history.

And in the present proposal, my valley--the Yaak--wasn't included, even though it was covered in the accords. Buckhorn Ridge and Northwest Peaks and Mt. Baldy (get it?) were designated as "Special Management Areas" ( not wilderness), meaning they could still be made available for, among other things, mining. But not even bald-ass Grizzly Peak, nor holy, wild and windy Flatiron Mountain, nor grizzly-beloved Roderick Mountain were offered as wilderness. Not one acre in this wild rain forest of a valley, the only valley in Montana like it, is proposed for wilderness in the bill now before the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, officially, the Montana National Forest Management Act, is being whisked along the fast track beneath the shadow of Judgment Day: the fall elections. Cut loose all 100% of Yaak's timber to logging. Not 98% or 99% but 100%. Get what you can and poison the rest.

Not a single acre, out of 265,000 wild ones.

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