“… [I]f you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely.”—Henri Ducard, Batman BeginsHow does a former timber lobbyist come to be the overseer of the U.S. Department of Forestry? And why does it matter that this overseer was once a renowned timber lobbyist?
My hamster heart rate maxed out, again, after I read a recent Washington Post article about—quelle surprise!—another back-room deal struck by the still presidentin' White House squatter. To which I say: Good gawd!
Isn't he a lame duck yet? Seems he's awfully prolific with his legislatin' of late and, quite honestly, I could tolerate a tad more lameness with that duck. Incapacitation would be nice. Might I suggest he go out hunting with Bunker Boy?
Anyway. Working beneath a dark and ominous cloud, BushCo, Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey and the largest private landowner in the United States quite literally paved the way for a conversion of, the Post says, “hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.”
It would seem that the Plum Creek Timber Co. is plumb tuckered out with regard to the logging business and has shifted into the real-estate gig (it owns 1.2 million highly-prized acres in western Montana). Lucky for Plum Creek, über-rich folk are always hankerin' for a slab of undiscovered land on which to spring a gated community, a place to build the next in their collection of vacation homes, a place secluded enough as to render the term “riff-raff” obsolete.
They seek a pristine place to spend one week each summer, a remote spot with a lake view, maybe a bear's den. And really, who can blame them? Wouldn't it be cool to commune with nature? To come face-to-face with a giant grizzly bear as she lumbers out of hibernation at dawn to sniff the crisp mountain air, right on your very own property?
According to the Post story, that's precisely what Paul Gurinas, a hedge-fund partner and owner of 200 acres in Missoula County, witnessed. Gurinas was in France at the time, but thanks to a web cam installed over a bear den, he was able to view the breathtaking moment on his Blackberry.
“I wanted to own land out there because I was always very interested in the concept of restoration, conservation,” he told the Post reporter by phone from Chicago. “The fact that it's almost become kind of a housing subdivision, that isn't what I was looking for. I guess I wish I had bought the whole thing up, and then I wouldn't have to worry about it.” Aw, shucks. When he puts it like that, I almost feel sorry for the guy's predicament.
Of course, the land is private, so it could be argued that it's the right of the landowner to do what he wants to it, à la Mr. T circa 1987. When the beefy actor moved into the tony Chicago suburb of Lake Forest—nicknamed “Tree City, USA”—he began hacking down trees on his seven-acre property and his neighbors freaked over what came to be known as “The Lake Forest Chainsaw Massacre.” He claimed he leveled the trees because of allergies, but it's rumored he did it out of spite, having already offended the residents' sensibilities. As Lucille Biety told The New York Times back then, “First he builds a stockade fence and paints it white—now this. Oh, my goodness.” Sort of makes one root for the chainsaw.
But development of this private land—much like private land almost everywhere—will impact the public when there are crossings to be negotiated and roads to be plowed and potholes to be filled and emergency services to be provided and whole forests to be leveled. So it makes sense, then, that the governmental body whose motto is “Caring for the land and serving the people” should actually, oh, I don't know—care for the land and serve the people?
It's crazy talk, I know.
Instead, Mark Rey's Department of Forestry is, as the Post reported, “forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.” Not surprising, since it's been documented that Overseer Rey isn't down with public opinion that doesn't support his ideology: He's publicly stated that longstanding safeguards, such as environmental-impact statements, waste “the time of resource managers and taxpayer dollars.” Them's fightin' words in Big Sky Country.
Not unlike the officials in Missoula County, the Center for Media and Democracy doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about Rey. To avoid public scrutiny and push his pro-industry agenda, CMD says, Rey has “used tactics that include stalling on implementation of regulations, neglecting to enforce standards, misappropriating funds to benefit the timber industry, failing to challenge court actions against environmental laws and manipulating regulations.”
Rey has also been a major advocate of the deceptively named Healthy Forests Initiative, which is changing the fragile biodiversity of our forests through increased logging. Meanwhile, his own agency has shown that thinning forests actually increases fire hazard. It's hardly necessary to mention—and at this point, it's physically painful to do so—that this upstanding protector of America's unique and diverse and magnificent countryside has immense disdain for the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
To call Rey a scoundrel is an offense to scoundrels in 437 languages. To call him a friend to Plum Creek Timber Co. doesn't begin to express the depth of that relationship. Because of the cozy conditions and thanks to stealth subversion of existing protections, it looks like the public won't get to weigh in as the landscape of the West changes at an ever-increasing pace. But don't despair! There is a silver lining. It's probably radiating and toxic, but it shimmers and it is thus: At least Rey's only been caring for this land, our land, since 2001. I mean, how much damage could one guy possibly do in a mere eight years? Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.