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Montana Politics

President Bush Offers Another Parting Gift For Montana: Subdivisions in our Forests

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17 days have never seemed so long:

Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who heads the Forest Service, last week signaled his intent to formalize the controversial change before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. As a candidate, Obama campaigned against the measure in Montana, where local governments complained of being blindsided by Rey’s negotiating the policy shift behind closed doors with the nation’s largest private landowner.

The shift is technical but with large implications. It would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads passing through Forest Service land. For decades, such roads were little more than trails used by logging trucks to reach timber stands.

But as Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company’s 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.

Scenic western Montana, where Plum Creek owns 1.2 million acres, would be most affected, placing fresh burdens on county governments to provide services, and undoing efforts to cluster housing near towns.

Senator Tester has been fighting for a more accountable process from the Forest Service since this policy shift was first proposed, and it’s been clear that it would not stand up to public scrutiny from the outset. Now Rey is promising a ‘courtesy meeting’ with Senator Tester before going through with his proposal.

Worst President ever.

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