Lessons from a logger —
DES MOINES – Libby, Mont., is a long ways from Iowa, but one of this small community’s most high-profile residents is showing how Midwest pork producers and Montana loggers aren’t very far apart when it comes to promoting responsible environmentalism while protecting their livelihood.
“Our family logging business is a lot like a family farm, and what’s going on in Libby is a microcosm of what’s going on in rural America,” said Bruce Vincent, a third-generation logger and keynote speaker who addressed more than 150 people at the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s 2009 Iowa Pork Congress in late January. “There’s a fine line between environmental sensitivity and environmental insanity, and Americans keep crossing it.”
This message first hit home in Libby more than 20 years ago when the grizzly bears of northwest Montana came under the federal Endangered Species Act.
When a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to the area to explain what this meant for local residents and logging companies, he made it clear that officials were on site to take action, not take a public opinion poll.
This action included misguided plans, Vincent said, such as implanting grizzly bear embryos in female black bears to rebuild the grizzly population. The two species are not compatible, he explained.
In addition, the logging industry was unfairly linked to the decline of the grizzly population, although the bears’ diets consist of berries and nuts, not trees.
“As long-time loggers who are committed to managing our natural resources, we know there’s room for us and the grizzlies in our forests,” said Vincent, who speaks throughout the U.S., has appeared on “60 Minutes” and has testified before Congress as an advocate for educating consumers about agriculture in a truthful, balanced way.
“That’s why those of us in agriculture need to lead these discussions, not just fight them.”
Taking action for agriculture
The stakes are high, said Vincent, who noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife representative taught Montana loggers two important lessons that should resonate throughout rural America.
“In many people’s view, rural residents don’t matter, because they are politically impotent. Also, when it comes to protecting our nation’s environment, the rural population is disposable.”
It’s time to help the majority of Americans, many of whom are three and four generations removed from the farm, to
realize that every day is Earth Day for Montana’s logger or Iowa’s farmer.
“How? Tell the truth about modern production agriculture to counter the misinformation and pseudo-science that too often portrays America’s farmers as villains.
“The American public has a Disney-like, ‘eco-topia’ view of the environment, and [environmental] laws have been bastardized so they are doing things they were never intended to do.
“They have become a bludgeoning device intended to smear the rural community off the map.”
To take a proactive stance, Vincent urges Iowa farmers to remember these three truths:
- Democracy works, but it’s not a spectator sport. Whether it’s at a county zoning commission, the state legislature or on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., meetings are being held every day that will directly affect your farming operation. It’s important to support the elected officials who support agriculture. “These folks are going out on a limb for you, so you need to stand up for them,” Vincent said.
- Talk to your leaders and future leaders. Loggers, for example, know that America has millions more acres of trees today than it did a century ago, thanks to conservation efforts and sustainable forestry practices. The public doesn’t realize this, however. Tell the public and elected officials why agriculture is important, and paint a picture of agriculture 100 years from now, explaining why farmers will play a key role in this future. Don’t forget to educate today’s students before they become the next generation of elected officials and lawmakers, Vincent added.
- Remember that the world is run by those who show up. While it’s not easy to get time away from the farm, make time to speak up for agriculture. Whether it’s writing a letter to the editor or attending a meeting of the local county commissioners, take one hour a week to get involved.
“If you’re going to survive in agriculture today, you need a line item in your budget for activism, right by machinery maintenance,” Vincent said. “The next generation is looking for a new leader for the environmental movement, and we can help people realize that farmers and loggers are the green choice for the coming millennium.
“If we all do this, there’s every reason to have hope for the future of agriculture.”
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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