Storm Lake- There's a fine line between environmental sensitivity and environmental insanity, and Americans keep crossing it, said a Montana logger who is urging Iowa farmers to address this collision of visions head on.
"Rural areas are the last, best parts of our country, and the public wants to protect them," said Bruce Vincent, 56, a third-generation Montana logger who shared tips on speaking up for agriculture with more than 100 audience members during a recent Iowa Soybean Association meeting in Storm Lake. "I don't begrudge their desire, but there's a fatal flaw in their vision.
"There's no provision for rural people, and policies are protecting us to death."
This message first hit home in Vincent's hometown of Libby, Mont., he said, during the late 1980s 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, such as implanting grizzly bear embryos in female black bears to rebuild the grizzly population, even though the two species are not compatible.
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.
"We ran head-first into the public's vision for our future, and their vision didn't include us," said Vincent, who speaks throughout the United States, has testified before Congress and encourages others to help educate policy makers, students and consumers about agriculture in a truthful, balanced way.
The challenges for the logging industry didn't stop with the grizzly bears, added Vincent, who noted that the industry has been handicapped by over-burdensome regulation. "People think that if we'd just shut our chainsaws off, the forest would be protected. If we're not managing the forests, however, nature will, and nature relies on fire."
Today, the forests of the western United States are filled with too many trees of the wrong type in the wrong size in the wrong place, he said, a perfect scenario for wildfires of unprecedented proportions.
Vincent's family has been in the logging business since 1904.
"The massive wildfires you've seen out West in the last few years aren't natural. I'm afraid we've got a 'Hurricane Katrina' of the forests just waiting to happen, and you know it won't file an environmental impact statement before it starts."
Ripples to waves
It's time to help the majority of Americans, many of whom are three and four generations removed from the farm, realize that every day is Earth Day for Montana's loggers and Iowa's farmers.
He urged farmers to tell the truth about modern farming to counter the misinformation and pseudo-science that too often portrays America's agricultural producers as villains.
"The American public has a Disney-like, 'eco-topia' view of the environment, and [environmental] laws have been bastardized to do things they were never intended to do."
He urged listeners not to assume common sense will break out on its own, or that it's enough to pay dues to ag commodity organizations and let them do all the work of speaking up for agriculture. He also urged:
Understand that democracy works, but it's not a spectator sport. Whether it's at a county zoning commission, the state legislature or Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., meetings are being held every day that will directly affect Iowa's farming operations.
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, who said this can be as simple as posting an election campaign sign in the front yard.
Lead your leaders. A shrinking number of local, state and national policymakers have a farm background or understand agriculture. It's important to educate elected officials and other leaders about why agriculture is important, and paint a picture of Iowa in the years to come, explaining why farmers will play a key role in this future, Vincent said.
Remember the world is run by those who show up. Write a letter to the editor, or e-mail legislators, said Vincent, who called farmers to 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."
Connect with kids. Speaking to students at the local school is a great place to start, said Vincent, who founded Provider Pals www.providerpals.com) to link urban and rural classrooms with farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers and commercial fishermen.
Provider Pals, which has connected with more than 10,000 children in 35 cities from New York to Los Angeles, includes online learning activities and classroom exchanges of rural students traveling to the city and urban students visiting rural areas for fun and learning.
For a generation that has been bombarded by messages that the planet is dying, farmers' stories of stewardship and sustainability are resonating, said Vincent, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.
"We need a new environmental movement defined by hope, not fear,"?Vincent said. "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."
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby firstname.lastname@example.org.