Saturday, July 5, 2008

My God--Montana is Now a Part Time Suburb With Airstrips

MISSOULA, Mont. - The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation's largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.

The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes....

The deal, which Rey said he expects to formalize next month, threatens to dramatically accelerate trends already transforming the region. Plum Creek's shift from logging to real estate reflects a broader shift in the Western economy, from one long grounded in the industrial-scale extraction of natural resources to one based on accommodating the new residents who have made the region the fastest-growing in the nation.

Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.

"Now that Plum Creek is getting out of the timber business, we're kind of missing the loggers," said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit that studies land management in the West. "A clear-cut will grow back, but a subdivision of trophy homes, that's going to be that way forever.

Under the new agreement, logging roads running into areas controlled by Plum Creek could be paved — and would thrum with the traffic of eight to 12 vehicle trips per day to and from each home, according to O'Herren. Critics say that will further imperil grizzly bears, lynxes and other endangered species in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, a region of rugged peaks, glacier-carved valleys, and sparkling rivers and lakes that straddles the border between Montana and Canada — and that in parts remains as Lewis and Clark found it....

"Look at that, Tom!" Parker yelped, after a climb up a knoll revealed a three-story log home, still wrapped in Tyvek HomeWrap insulation. "They're like mushrooms. You get a few sunny days and they pop right up...."

Most are the second, third or even fourth homes of wealthy newcomers who have transformed the local economy — 40 percent of income in Missoula County is now "unearned," from, say, dividends — and typically visit only in the summer. In Antler Ridge, across Highway 93, Web cameras installed over bird nests and a bear den beam photos to a hedge fund partner who visits his 200 acres just a few times a year.

"He was actually in France when the bear left the den," said "remote wildlife viewing" contractor Ryan Alter, on his way to install a camera at an owl's nest. "So I sent him pictures on his BlackBerry...."

Plum Creek said it has sold only 3,000 of its Montana acres to developers in the past five years, and it expects to sell even less in the next five, the company's president, Rick Holley, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Missoulian newspaper. But critics point out that its calculations may shift with the real estate market.

A decade ago, while repairing an image as the "Darth Vader of the timber industry," as one congressman put it, the company showcased good-forestry practices on a hillside above Flathead Lake.

That parcel is now Eagle's Crest, a gated subdivision with its own airstrip and lots on offer for $100,000 an acre. Remote corners of Swan Valley are selling for $11,000 an acre, with broker inquiries arriving from Europe. By comparison, the "net present value per acre of forest" runs at most $500, said Larry Swanson, director of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.


Bold is mine because I used to have romantic visions of grandeur about Montana, always wanting to live there, or in Wyoming wit Harrison Ford. Ah well. Full article below.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25537068/from/ET/

12 comments:

Nancy J. Bond said...

This is traqic, but nothing surprises me any more about the Bush administration.

Benjamin Vogt said...

And what's so amazing, Nancy, is how Bush has even alienated so many in his own party. The guy is an A+ nut job. It amazes me that we can have presidents like this (and how many ARE like this).

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

What about all the people who move to Montana to get away from other people? (I'm hearing Frank Zappa in my head right now, "Moving to Montana.")

Victoria said...

So sad. Thanks for that, Benjamin, I feel the readers of my newspaper would like to hear about this story. They all think Bush is a moron too.

Les, Zone 8a said...

Perhaps the economic melt down that has occurred on Dumbya's watch will quell the real estate frenzy that is destroying what makes places like Montana special.

garden girl said...

Benjamin, Kudos to you for bringing attention to this issue. I had no idea the head of the forest service was a former timber lobbyist. That fact alone is frightening, though not surprising.

I hope the deal between Plum Creek and the Forest Service gets plenty of press. What went on behind those doors is worthy of scrutiny.

As for me, this is something I'm going to learn more about.

Frances, said...

Ah, Benjamin, when will it end? With a new president? Will it make a difference? Can this train be stopped, let alone turned around? In the beginning of this presidency, I kept thinking that 'people' won't allow this stuff to happen, and that was before Iraq. Are we helpless to change this course? Do you have any morsels of hope for one in despair for the world of my grandchildren?

Benjamin Vogt said...

MMD--No kidding! That's why I'd like to live there!!! (minus Zappa)
Victoria--Oh man, moron indeed. I guess I'm glad to spread the word to you, but then again, we don't need to be looking any worse than we already are.
Les--That was his plan all along! He's a genious! He is green! He saw this coming, so in order to STOP deforestation in favor of houses, he decided to have no domestic policy. Huzzah!
GG--I know, does that seem right at ALL to have the forest service head a former timber lobbyist? Good lord.
Frances--No, of course it won't end, of course a new president won't change things (though every 4 years we seem to get tricked beleiving so). You want hope? Go touch the soil. Go see your grandkids follow a butterfly or bee through coneflowers. Look at the blue sky. Dream. Wonder. Reflect. Transcend. Be unlike any other creature, be human--as such, we have such wonderful capacity for positive change and existence it's heart wrenching... and hopeful.

Victoria said...

If it's any consolation, I don't regard lack of concern for the environment as a peculiarly American phenomenon. We have plenty of morons over here in Europe too.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Victoria--Oh, of course not. I'm just feeling particularly sensitive as of late about my own sense of national pride. Maybe July 4th does that to a person, especially in an election year. And also as one climbs on through his 30s, perhaps?

themanicgardener said...

Benjamin--bulls eye. I remember a time when I was proud to be an American, but that's a long time ago now. As for moronic presidents--Dubya surely gets first prize in that category, at least in the past century. And now this news about Montana--that's my state he's destroying, damn it. As to whether anything will change, I don't know. But Obama did spend the 4th in Butte....

--Kate

ourfriendben said...

Dumbya! Gotta love that!!! (My ex actually went to Yale with W and you should have heard the stories...) And of course I agree with you on the "without Zappa" part. Thank heavens Alice Cooper and Steve Vai escaped unscathed!