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Last Stand.

There is a valley hidden in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana where the corporate feeding frenzy of the 1980s spilled over into depredation of nature on a stupefying scale. Stumps mottle the barren land as far as the eye can see. Deep gullies cut the earth, sluicing away the soil. Below, the Gold Creek chokes on silt and slag, its trout mostly dead.

In 1988, reporter Richard Manning of the Missoulian newspaper stumbled into this tortured landscape to investigate rumors that Champion International, the land's owner, had abandoned sustained-yield forestry and returned to the ways of cut-and-run. The rumors, it happened, were true.

Champion was liquidating forests in square-mile sections, in Gold Creek as elsewhere in Montana. And so were its competitors. Yet the timber firms' actions, Manning relates in Last Stand - his account of what logging has done to places like Gold Creck and what witnessing it has done to him - were driven by the impeccable, if perverse, logic of the money economy.

The price of lumber was depressed, the competition from easier-to-work timber stands further west was fierce, and corporate raiders were at the door, salivating over Champion's "undervalued assets" - the Western Larch and Ponderosa pine of the northern Rockies.

At first, Manning considered the story he was uncovering a morality play along the lines of "Corporate Greed and Government Negligence Wreck Environment and Doom Local Jobs." As he traced the chain of events backward to causes and forward to consequences, however, he unearthed more troubling interpretations - understandings that, in the end, overturned his view of the world and led to his dismissal from the Missoulian.

His dawning awareness of the ecological riches lost in the clearing of one forest valley eventually thrust him into confronting the enormity of the transformations humanity has brought about on this planet. Watching his article about Gold Creek printed one night on tree-sized rolls of newsprint then put him face to face with his own unwitting complicity, a complicity that, if truth be told, every one of us shares.

Last Stand is ostensibly about the forests of the North American back-country - and as such, it is a valuable record. But its greater worth is in its unflinching attention to something more universal and less discussed: the pain and paradox of living in an economy that thrives on the death of nature.
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Author:Durning, Alan Thein
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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