McClintock: enemy of the Earth

It’s been 20 years since I dealt with a someone like Tom McClintock. But for a decade before that, as a journalist working in Montana, I dealt with guys like him all the time. For a generation, Republican politicians made their bones by attacking environmentalists. They called themselves the “Wise Use Movement,” and charged the environmentalists with “locking up” the natural resources contained in the nation’s wildlands.

When I arrived in 1982, Missoula was as much a logging town as a college town. Rolling Stone had labeled it “Berkeley in the Rockies,” but the writer who penned that phrase apparently didn’t notice the two sawmills, including what was once the biggest plywood mill in the world.

Both of those mills are now closed. For years, the Wise Users warned that the environmental laws they successfully fought would force the mills to close. That’s not what happened. Without strict laws protecting forests on the privately held land owned by the since-shuttered Champion International and other timber companies, those forests were clear-cut into extinction. The timber industry essentially put itself out of business in Montana.

There are still a lot of beautiful forests in Montana, for one reason alone: A lot of the state is public property—National Parks and National Forests where logging laws are fairly strong. That is also true here in California. As this week’s cover story shows, Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) is trying to weaken those laws. As chairman of the House Federal Lands Subcommittee, McClintock is one of the most dangerous people in Washington when it comes to the environment.

This article is the first in a series.