About These Overheated Responses to the Tester Wilderness “Gaffe”

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You may heard this past week that Senator Tester falsely claimed in an interview with Montana Public radio that “every logging sale” in Montana is under litigation.

Let me be clear: Tester was wrong, and should be held accountable for his error, something the first wave of news stories did. It’s important for the media to hold politicians accountable for their remarks, although I find it troubling that some politicians in Montana can routinely lie without censure simply because they’re not seen as honest in the first place. That being said, Tester did what he needed to do: acknowledged his error and apologized for it.

The response, however, has been hyperbolic and not entirely intellectually honest.

Writing from his perch in the Missoulian, George Ochenski compared Tester’s statement to Adolf Hitler’s “Big Lie,” a comparison so specious as to defy analysis—and, apparently, standards for editing and judgment.

Over at the Great Falls Tribune, John Adams once again gave a platform from which environmentalist Matt Koehler could launch another serious of attacks on Tester, without mentioning that Koehler has spent years in an almost-obsessive crusade against Senator Tester, a copy-paste crusade that has often put the interests of protecting Montana wild spaces at a level well below that of attacking the Senator. In his full-paragraph access to the Tribune, Koehler repeated the same litany of complaints he posts non-stop online about Senator Tester, without any context or analysis of his remarks. That missing context provides the fringe environmentalist groups Koehler represents the opportunity to misrepresent the reality of litigation today. In other online sources, Koehler even went as far as to suggest that Senator Tester was responsible for a climate of violence against environmental activists, an incredibly opportunistic and unreasonable claim.

If we’re going to talk about being honest here, those opposed to Senator Tester probably need to offer a little more truth in their analyses. The fact is that litigation is a critical part of  the wilderness dilemma in Montana, because, combined with the housing crash and international competition, litigation has made timber harvest much more challenging. For environmental fringe groups to pretend to be outraged by the notion that litigation delays timber development ignores the reality that litigation—and the threat of litigation—have absolutely stifled development. Ask US Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard:

“In your part of the country—south-central Montana in particular— a huge role. It has virtually shut things down on the National Forest, and so environmental clearance there, collaborative or not, has been difficult.”

The Missoulian’s Rob Chaney also reported that the litigation web is so complex that it’s difficult to measure its impact on forest harvest:

“There’s nothing in the cut-and-sold reports about lawsuits – it’s just about timber sales,” said Todd Morgan of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “And that doesn’t get at this spider web of connectivity, where one project gets litigated and it has an impact on lots of other projects. What they’re measured by is not always really clear.”

From the Flathead Beacon:

The persistent litigation of timber sales, which can stall a project for three to five years, has both timber executives and forest managers concerned. “That’s a huge concern for us as an agency,” said Rob Carlin, planning staff officer for the Flathead National Forest. “Our mission is to manage vegetation in a variety of ways. If we lose the biggest tool to do that, and the biggest tool is timber harvest, we don’t have other tools to treat the forests and vegetation except fire.”

And a study published in the Journal of the Society of American Foresters does argue that litigation plays a major role in reducing timber harvest volume:

“The Northern Region has experienced a relatively high level of litigation,” said Forest Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Slown. “From 2008 through 2013, the region had more than 70 projects litigated. In recent years, litigation has encumbered as much as 40 to 54 percent of the region’s planned timber harvest volume.”

If we want to talk about propaganda techniques, it’s hard to overlook some members of the environmental movement using Tester’s misstatement to mask the fact that they do use litigation to delay or block timber sales across the state. Of course they do. They even tout their success in blocking timber harvest through the courts.

Tester is never going to satisfy the extreme environmentalist movement. He’s never pretended to be in their camp and neither are the vast majority of Montanans who do want a compromise solution. Back in 2014, Tester told the Flathead Beacon:

Now, for those folks who don’t want any trees cut, they’re probably not going to be too happy with that. But the truth is, that isn’t a realistic outcome, and it’s not a good strategy for managing Montana’s forests. A lot of the folks who are opposed to this don’t want anything to happen, they are perfectly happy with obstructionism and that’s not how you move a country forward. That’s not how you do what’s right for Montana.”

So the real truth? Montana, for all its natural splendor, is a state that has always struggled with the balance between environmental protection and resource extraction—and is a state with thousands of people who depend on forestry jobs. That our Senator works to balance those interests is not only a reflection of his sound policy-making, but a reflection of the fact that he does need to represent all of the people of Montana. And he’s managed to do that while achieving an 86% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. Steve Daines, on the other hand? 2%.

And let’s not lose sight of what Senator Tester has accomplished.

I’m reminded again of the piece by the Montana Wilderness Association’s John Gatchell and Cameron Sapp, who argue that it’s precisely because Senator Tester is willing to compromise that 650,000 acres in Montana are now protected:

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act was included in an omnibus package of 70 public land bills that was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, a package that also included the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. Together, these two bills permanently protect more than 650,000 acres of public land in the Crown of the Continent, one of the most magnificent ecosystems on Earth.

While environmentalist groups on the political fringes excel at getting press attention, Senator Tester and the mainstream environmental groups they marginalize excel at protecting Montana wild spaces, despite operating in a political climate that is far more hostile than during the environmental heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.

Am I telling progressives who want better protection of Montana’s wildernesses not to be critical of Senator Tester? Certainly not. Our public officials need to be held accountable—and should be expected to apologize for misstatements.

But those who, whether driven by personal animus, pervasive online presence that rivals South Korean gamers, inflexible ideology or just plain opportunism, seem to obsess over attacking Senator Tester have to realize at some level that they are merely useful idiots for the real threat to Montana wilderness. We’re already seeing conservative blogs and “media” outlets in Montana—most of whom want far more timber sales than Tester would ever support—using the story about his misstatement against him. Are those interested in protecting Montana’s wild spaces really better served attacking Senator Tester so that we can elect a reactionary like Ryan Zinke to the Senate? Those in the environmental movement who are so critical of Senator Tester would do well to consider the alternatives their overheated rhetoric might help create.

Tester was wrong in his facts this time, but he’s far more often right for the people of Montana. His work to develop compromise wilderness legislation and protection is far more important than these poorly conceived comments.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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Steve WDean LittlepageLarry Kralj, Environmental RangersTurnerJohn S. Adams Recent comment authors
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gwuerthner
Guest

Don Rhetoric aside, the important message of George Ochinski’s column is that due to excessive logging by private interests, our forests are already hacked up beyond reasonable limits. As an ecologist I can attest to the damage done to our wildlife habitat. That is why the FS is litigated. They continue to ignore limits. Our public lands are being treated as a credit card for the timber industry–and the timber industry financial interests–is not in the interests of Montanans and the rest of the country’s citizens that own these lands. That should be the focus. Not defending the excessive roading,… Read more »

David Parker
Guest

If I may indulge your patience, I would like to quote a passage from Battle for the Big Sky about Tester and FJRA: “Tester’s bill is an attempt to do the impossible: find common ground between the traditional, Pinchot-style conservationists and Muir preservationists. Perhaps that is why the bill is controversial and why it’s not overwhelmingly popular with any one group. But it is exactly because Tester attempts to square the circle that it is notable. Tester believes his job is to make government function well while addressing a seemingly irresolvable difference.”–pp. 95. This is what is key and why… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

The problem is not all sides are equal. The pressure is to put industry concerns as prime when they have already exceeded limits.

Ugh
Guest
Ugh

Self promotion…. great. Thank you…

John Carter
Guest
John Carter

Tester has shown a willingness to sell out wolves and our forests without any apparent understanding of the consequences, the ecology of these systems, their importance to our water supplies and streams. This is why I no longer vote for democrats..they have sold out their constituents and are generally spineless. The media does not help when it passes on these false statements without any due diligence, but these days it is the corporate media, like the corporate democrats (Tester) so the truth lies hidden beneath false rhetoric and opinion, not facts.

paul edwards
Guest

This article illustrates the kind of sad, cynical hackery that characterizes the Democratic Party today. Due to its total collusion with Big Corporate Money’s various exploitative agendas, it has lost it the backing of so many progressive Americans who can no longer stomach its spineless complicity with the forces of the 1% who care nothing for citizens and their rights. In the present case, it’s about whoring for the Timber Industry. Tester is a poster boy for that kind of genuflection to power and his intemperate lie on timber sales shows him up as what he is. Democrats in Montana… Read more »

blaeloch
Guest

At the very, very, very bottom of all of this is the fact that the Forest Service frequently violates the law, and that is why litigation occurs (and often succeeds). The Chief of the Forest Service loves to complain about litigation, when what he should be doing is making sure his own agency adheres to laws and regulations, thereby not getting sued. In the Washington Post article there was this, too: “The Forest Service also recognizes the important role of environmental groups who challenge some of its decisions. ‘Things should be litigated that need to be litigated,’ said Heather Noel,… Read more »

Larry Campbell
Guest

In my experience Democrats can do as much damage to the environment and to functional democracy as Republicans. Pretty much two wings on the same bird. In a way, Democrats can sometimes fly under the radar and pull off damage with less public detection because they are cast as more caring about the environment and functional democratic process. In the case of Senator Tester, I think early on he was given bad information by certain “conservation” groups, (MWA, MT WF, MT TU, TWS, ??), and that led him to throw some long-time staunch conservationists under the bus. Friends of the… Read more »

Dean Littlepage
Guest
Dean Littlepage

Thanks for mentioning the West Pioneers, Larry. It’s as glaring an indictment of Forest Service mismanagement as I can imagine; the FS utterly failed in its legal mission to protect a Congressionally designated WSA for possible inclusion in the NWPS, turning a wonderful wild area into an ORV playground while the agency was legally required to maintain its suitability as wilderness.. As much as I appreciate Don’s analysis & writing on this site, I have to say that the “neutral” standing he appears to be giving the FS in this post is misplaced; the FS is not neutral in the… Read more »

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

It would be helpful if you (Pogie), or Senator Tester, or other Democrats fond of throwing around the term “extreme environmentalist” or “extreme environmentalist movement” would provide the rest of us non-aligned citizens of Montana a definition. What is your criteria? Is citizen-enforcement of national laws really a bad thing? Is there such a thing as too much public participation in the democratic process? Or is being too effective a fault? I’d really appreciate it if you’d spell it out and tell us what you mean.

Drunks for Denny
Guest
Drunks for Denny

Nice post. I think Tester can be forgiven for a lot of the logging sales are of the de minimus type, along easements, that can’t be appealed. The Forest Service has done a lot more of those in recent years given the current litiguous nature of the extreme environmental community, especially with all the beetle killed trees that topple over into the road when there is a strong wind.

gwuerthner
Guest

Keep in mind that almost all–if not all these timber sales lose money. They are gifts to timber company executives and stockholders.In the old days when most of the environmental community in Montana was trying to save public lands and public money, this was a constant theme. A theme that seems to have been forgotten. Again keep in mind that the subsidies do not include all the damage done by logging operations–fragmentation of wildlife habitat, soil compaction, water pollution, roads that leak sediments into stream killing trout, weed invasions that follow roads into timbered stands, disturbance to sensitive wildlife, removal… Read more »

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

Thanks for your thoughts. Now I’d like you to help me understand why being “moderate” or in “the center” is automatically a more desirable place to stand socially or politically in a democratic republic. Do you believe there is a legitimate role for anyone, even one with “extreme” views, in this debate about public lands and constitutional, due-process rights? Do you see “the center” as occupying a much larger space than “the extreme?” Or an equal and necessary space? And to add a bit of context, would you agree that the center, or status quo, is steadily trending in the… Read more »

Duane Short
Guest
Duane Short

Tester’s lie was intended to reach as many people as possible. It was broadcasted via mass media. it would nice if his lie could be exposed via mass media. And calling out a lie is not a matter of satisfying environmentalists or anyone or group; it’s a simple matter of satisfying the truth. Somewhere along the way, politics and politicians decided the truth is inconvenient. In my view, calling a lie a “gaffe” is itself a lie. It’s time integrity be demanded of politicians, journalists… everyone.

mick
Guest
mick

Was Tester’s first lie, about doing,”all that he could” to protect Montana’s remaining road less lands,during his debate with Burns ?

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

I see you’re ready to move on. Very well then.

The following senators did not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress: Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) Nor did VP Biden.

Senator Tester where are you when this country really needs you?

LK
Guest
LK

So far, the only commentator that I’ve seen who gets it absolutely right is Chris Mattews. I am outraged at these traitorous tea party bastards for bringing this no good racist a**hole here! Our country is truly entering a bizarre period in history in which christofascism is a serious threat to our democracy. ALL by design, intelligent design of the Kockh brothers and others.
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/chris-matthews-livid-after-netanyahus-speech-gop-assisted-a-takeover-attempt-by-a-foreign-government/
p.s. The GF Spitoon in tomorrow’s paper immediately does an op ed supporting the racist fascist nazzzi bastard, Netanyahoo. The nazzzi propaganda is endless!…….and unchallenged.

Duane Short
Guest
Duane Short

Good for them. After the trillions of dollars and military backing we have given Israel over the years, Netanyahu comes to our house and disses us with his irrational paranoia. Taking a play from Dick Cheney’s Machiavellian playbook Netanyahu is defying his own intelligence, not to mention ours. I’m not sure what your point is Steve, but Tester’s claims (the subject of this thread) were lies. Plain and simple.

Bob Williams
Guest
Bob Williams

And at same time came Senator Tester’s big, flat lie about Bakken crude going into the KXLLimited Partnership pipeline proposition.

And if Bakken MarketLink, pumping crude oil into dilbit carring Keystone KXL, will not be built, then KXL is a private carrier w public carrier status, and Tester gets another Pinnochio.

KXL essentially a two end tube from foreign suppliers, to mostly foreign owned diilbit refineries at tidewater seaports in Texas.

Maybe Tester is on schedule morphing more and more into another rubber stamper. Another, yes man, saying stuff his new base craves to hear!

Bob Williams
Guest
Bob Williams

Steve, thanks for telling us who did not go to sit under Bibi.

I’m old, but what I heard him say was: 1. Stop negotiation progress with Iran, 2. consider more sanctions against Iran(imposible without Russian and Chinese joint sanctions, therefore), 3. make war against Iran.

Moralcoward@pogie.com
Guest

Pogie, you’re gonna have to do an Elm Street on me, meet me in a dream. I know you. You’re a moral coward. Coward. Coward. Coward. An intellectual tool. Tool. Tool.

A mentor of kids. (Yikes! I just scared myself. This is your nightmare, dammit!)

And you’ve set up your website so even anonymous comments don’t seep through.

Creep. Coward. Hall monitor.

Matthew Koehler
Guest
Matthew Koehler

Don: For a guy who’s done some decent mainstream Montana news media critiques before, you sure rush off to those same Montana mainstream news outlets in hopes of bolstering whatever point you are trying to make here. Ironically, unless I missed it, you never manage to actually link to, or quote from, the official Washington Post Fact-Checker article, so I have posted (via cut-n-paste) a large chunk of that WaPost Fact-Checker since it actually helps serve the dual role of also fact-checking some of the inaccurate statements and false rhetoric in many of the quotes you decided to highlight. And… Read more »

gwuerthner
Guest

Don A second issue that I think underlies this entire issue is the misinformation that is spread by the Forest Service, politicians and others about wildfire ecology. I do not expect Daines, Tester, Bullock,etc. to be experts on fire ecology, but they are misrepresenting the latest science. And if anyone, including some environmental groups, the Forest Service and/or politicians are going to claim they support scientific management of our forests, than they need to do their homework. Many of the underlying assumptions behind public statements and assertions are based on questionable science or ignores the latest scientific findings. For instance… Read more »

Ugh
Guest
Ugh

Matt – you have a serious vendetta against Tester and, honestly, it’s clearly personal bc you don’t like that he’s embarrassed you a few times. Move on buddy. Move on.

Matthew Koehler
Guest
Matthew Koehler

Hello anonymous “Ugh.” You clearly don’t want to address any of the public lands policy substance contained within numerous comments on this blog post. My ‘vendetta” (as it is) is against bad public lands management and short-sighted policy changes. I fully supported science-based management of public lands that is grounded in law, economic realities and includes open, inclusive processes such as full NEPA reviews. I also have never once felt embarrassed by Senator Tester. Perhaps if Senator Tester would stick to the facts he wouldn’t get embarrassed by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Thanks.

Ugh
Guest
Ugh

Yes, but why do you spend ALL your time going after one policy maker that made you feel bad once. As someone who spends a lot time in wild lands, I’m surprised you can’t see the forest for the trees. BOOM!

But seriously, I know this is your 15 minutes, but wow…

John S. Adams
Guest

One person has been consistently embarrassed when Sen. Tester and Koehler square off. That one attempts to belittle and tell whoppers, while the other stands on facts documented truths. Most people know who’s who in that equation, but in case you don’t may I direct your attention to round 1: http://newwest.net/topic/article/what_testers_outburst_tells_us/C41/L41/ “The truth is, Tester’s staff isn’t interested in listening to ‘non-supportive’ constituents, more or less considering them bugs on the windshield. And, it seems, they keep the Senator in the dark about attempts by anybody except true-blue followers to affect change in this legislation and end up allowing their… Read more »

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

Adams, good to see you here and outta the corporate GF Spitoon. And now, take the gloves off! Hey, their your mountains TOO, dude! “Life is a desperate struggle to succeed in being in fact that which we are in design.” Ortega y Gasset I believe that you were designed to be a REAL reporter. Now, go and succeed at that. SCREW the consequences. The Environmental Rangers learned loooong ago that there ain’t no cavalry comin’. No one is comin’ to your rescue. You want sumthin’ done, then you gotta do it! Good to see you writing with OUT the… Read more »

Steve W
Guest
Steve W

Word! Koehler is a straight shooter and a good writer. I always learn something from his pieces because they are crammed full of facts. His facts lead right to his conclusions.

Tester apologists don’t seem to like that.

steve kelly
Guest
steve kelly

Ugh,

This cannot be swept under the rug so easily. Sen. Tester exhibits many of the behavioral traits associated with suppressing dissent by intimidation, and ultimately outlawing journalism and “extremist” political activity when some conveniently pre-planned “emergency” arises. His “straight shooter” varish is all but gone, revealing that “bigger-hammer-kind-of -guy” he’s been all along. He needs to apologize and get a grip. I’m not sure he can.

LK
Guest
LK

p.s. Adams, I was thinkin’ that maybe I could apply for that job as “faith” reporter for the Spitoon. Think I have a chance??? Could I count on a recommendation from you? Thanx in advance!

Jackie B.
Guest
Jackie B.

Don Pogreba: “Tester is never going to satisfy the extreme environmentalist movement. He’s never pretended to be in their camp” Why then did then dem candidate Jon Tester in 2006 negotiate with Paul Richards that in exchange for Paul’s dropping out of the primary race and swinging his supporters to him, that he would agree to certain specifics on issues important to Paul and his supporters? And yes, in that moment with his agreement with Paul, we all discussed the agreement, and its ramifications, and we let Paul know that we were “satisfied” with Jon’s promises. Paul Richards’ core supporters… Read more »

Helena Insider
Guest
Helena Insider

I really don’t understand how this has become such a heated issue. Yes, Tester misspoke. How horrifying! His misstaken words hasn’t changed his policy and that’s what matters, Matt. Given that he’s been in office 8 yrs, I’m not going to let one guy (Matt) and some bored journalists impact my opinion of him.
Tester is a straight shooter. Done.
In terms of politics… how does this hurt him in 4 years?
This is so tired…

Keith Hammer
Guest
Keith Hammer

The big timber sale litigation lie is being perpetuated by use of the terms “extreme” environmentalists that file “frivolous” lawsuits. Fish and wildlife are given voice in our government processes only through the application and enforcement of environmental laws. What’s so “extreme” about filing a lawsuit when the Forest Service is violating the law? How can a lawsuit be considered “frivolous” when it is filed only after many months, if not years, of a citizen or environmental group attending field tours, reading many hundreds of pages of environmental and research documents, providing feedback, and trying to resolve differences with the… Read more »

LK
Guest
LK

Garun-frickin’- TEED the funniest thing you’ll see all day! And all true. And all designed to piss off Gayr Marsbutt!
http://crooksandliars.com/2015/02/australian-comics-take-americas-absurd-gun

Keith Hammer
Guest
Keith Hammer

Senator Tester way overreached in his attempt to scapegoat those willing to litigate timber sales. So what is with the smoke and mirrors of calling his error a “wilderness gaff?” It’s only a wilderness gaff if one admits that industry is holding future wilderness designations hostage to get more logging out of public lands – and that some members of Congress have fallen in line with industry in doing the same thing. Scapegoating litigation is simply a smokescreen for scapegoating the needs of fish and wildlife, which just happen to need trees and clean water. Like I said before, protection… Read more »

Craig Moore
Guest
Craig Moore

Being on the wrong side of right is nothing new to Tester that reaped serious campaign cash from debit card companies. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/19/jon-tester-swipe-fees-_n_863907.html They came through with something like $60,000 as I remember. The swipe-fee battle had major Dems are opposite sides. Durbin was the pro-consumer advocate on this one. Tester prevaricated on this not unlike what he has done here to satisfy the wood products industry that has much invested in the outcome. As always, when Tester has come under fire, similar to what Walsh experienced, there is always a willing wordsmith to reframe a lie or an acti of… Read more »

Turner
Guest
Turner

I know that we regular Democratic voters be asked to support Tester in 2018. Before doing this, I’d like to know specifically how Tester differs from Zinke — whom I’m assuming will run against him — with respect to the environment. I know that, sadly, they both favor Keystone XL. But is Zinke’s position on logging any different from Tester’s? Or on mining?

Turner
Guest
Turner

I apologize for the who/whom error.

mick
Guest
mick

I ruined Christmas with a yellow dog, when I said, 8 years of Tester equaled the 2006 Burns wild land package.

Bob Williams
Guest
Bob Williams

John S. Adams weighed in at just the right time.

Bob Williams

Matthew Koehler
Guest
Matthew Koehler

The Rachel Carson of the Rockies: Arlene Montgomery, the Bull Trout and the Fight to Save the Wild West

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/06/the-rachel-carson-of-the-rockies/

Note: In addition to being a great article about the amazing work of Arlene Montgomery with Friends of the Wild Swan, the article also features a look at some of the efforts by Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Swan View Coalition.

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