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Saving the environment


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A Libby logger who speaks around the nation and has created a presidentially recognized educational program brought a message of woe — and success and hope — to agriculture producers at the winter grazing seminar in Havre Thursday. Bruce Vincent, president of Communities for a Great Northwest, told the people at the grazing seminar that a new movement has to save the business and culture of Montana and all of rural America. "There's a way to save the last best places. We're going to have to save the last best people to do it," Vincent said. "And it's going to take every person in this room doing one hour a week to re-find the conservation ethic of this nation. … You just have to commit to doing some of it every week." Vincent, a third-generation logger, has been an activist on conservation issues for decades. He has testified before Congress, spoken at many venues including schools and universities around the nation, and received the inaugural Presidential Preserve America Award from President George W. Bush in 2004, for his work in creating the educational program Provider Pals Vincent also has appeared on numerous television programs, including "60 Minutes." His message to the people at the grazing seminar, conducted by the Governor's Rangeland Resources Executive Committee and hosted by the Hill County Conservation District, was that conservation is alive and well, but the message being put to the masses doesn't tell the true story. Vincent said it is the people who work with and manage the land — loggers, miners, agricultural producers — who know how to preserve that land. But the message put forth to Americans is that harvesting resources — by loggers, miners and agricultural producers — is damaging that land. He said the message originally put forth by environmental groups like Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and The Audubon Society was a true and worthy message — he worked on the first Earth Day ever celebrated in Libby, he said. But that message was taken over by commercialism — those kind of groups now are managed by chief executive officers and chief operating officers who have to show a profit, Vincent said. He added that they make that profit by selling fear. But, he said, in his talks around the country, Vincent has found that people are eager for a new message. He found that out when making a presentation at the University of Illinois on an Earth Day. He said he expected he was invited so he could be axed, or tomatoed off the stage. What he found was an auditorium filled with 3,000 students and some picketers in the back. Vincent said he told the group that the messages from 40 years ago were worthy and needed, but had never grown or evolved. He said he told the group, "The new environmental movement is going to be led by rural people. We live too close to the ground to pretend. … We need a new environmental vision in this country built on hope instead of fear, science instead of emotion, education instead of litigation, resolution instead of conflict and employing instead of destroying human resources" Vincent said when he stopped — it still gives him goosebumps, he said — the audience stood, cheered, stomped and escorted the picketers out of the room. He said he asked the university president what had just happened, and the president said, "You gave us hope." Vincent said the same happened when he went to Dartmouth University, Brown University, and countless other places. "It's not me that they want. They want hope," he said. He said the key is to make people in the urban world understand what it is like in the rural world, and how the culture of people in rural America includes preserving the environment. People visit Montana, love it and want to save it — but want to save it at the expense of the people living here, he said. Those are the people who know how to care for the land, he said. His father, Vincent said, knows more about forest management through experience than he could have learned through a doctorate at Yale. "He learned it all by experience and society has discounted that knowledge base, and they discount it at their own peril," Vincent said. He said the same is true in the agricultural world. "They are tired of hearing what is wrong and ready to start hearing about what could be right," Vincent said. "When it comes time to protect grazing in Montana, if you engage the public and talk to them about what you are trying to do right, they will endorse your efforts. "But you've got to be the messenger," Vincent added. He said the key is to go out to the public, out to the world, and find out what their questions and concerns are, and tell them what people living in rural America are doing to address those concerns. The same needs to be done by rural people to understand urban America, he added. "They live in an environment that is nothing like the one we call home," Vincent said. "We laugh at how silly they are on our issues. How silly are we on theirs?" One way people can get involved is through Provider Pals, he said. People in production industries in rural America are adopted — the program now involves more than 300 classrooms across the United States and Canada — and correspond for a year and then go to visit the classroom in which they were adopted. Vincent said that while progress is being made in the timber industry — new policy signed by President Bush should help that — it is very late in coming, too late for many. But work needs to proceed for timber and all other rural industries, he said. "Within you guys is the conservation ethic that built our nation. That same pioneering spirit that built our nation is going to have to rebuild our conservation ethic in order to save the next generation of youth," Vincent said. "As a logger from Libby, I couldn't be more proud to stand next to you guys as we try to figure out how to do it." ——— On the Net: Provider Pals: http://www.providerpals.com


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