Montana logger headlines Nobles County Corn and Soybean banquet
WORTHINGTON -- A third-generation logger from Libby, Mont., brought his message of agricultural advocacy to Worthington Wednesday night before a crowd of nearly 200 attendees at the annual Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers banquet.
Bruce Vincent, founder of the "Provider Pals" program that connects farmers, loggers, miners and others who work in the natural sciences industry with middle school students, spoke of the important task agriculturalists have in educating the non-farm public about what they do and why they do it.
Vincent shared the story of his return to the family's logging business in early 1984, and its subsequent demise when environmental activists found ways to create governmental roadblocks for the entire industry.
"What happened in our timber community is important to you," he said to an audience filled with farm families and agribusiness people.
Living in an area of the country boasting of clean air and clean water, Vincent said they also loved the community environment. So, too, did the tourists.
"They fall in love with the natural environment ... and they leave with a desire to protect," he said. It became a problem when those same tourists wanted to "implement their version of protection on us."
"What's going on in rural America is not that we're being protected, we're being protected to death," he shared.
First came the movement to protect the grizzly bear population and a mandate by the federal government to protect the population under the Endangered Species Act.
"They had a plan that didn't include us, and we decided that wasn't fair," Vincent said. "They were going to steamroll our area."
Through the series of public meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vincent said he began to get the feeling their rural environment -- their way of life -- was disposable. The government wanted to increase the population of bears and, at the same time, told parents to have their children wear bells when they were outdoors to scare off the grizzlies.
Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed to stop logging under the endangered species act. If that failed, there were suits waiting in the wings to protect a dozen other species.
The industry was in jeopardy. Vincent's family business was all but destroyed.
"Vincent Logging doesn't have 65 employees anymore," he said. "We have zero."
Now, logging families look to the trees that surround their homes and closed businesses. The absence of logging has resulted in overgrowth that could cause devastation if a wildfire sparked.
"We have the Katrina of the forest sitting up there," Vincent said. "It's going to burn."
And when it does, it will burn hotter, it will burn longer and it will be difficult to fight, he added.
So what does that have to do with agriculture in southwest Minnesota?
Vincent said there have been some big lessons learned in the logging industry. First and foremost, it learned it was too busy defending its industry to tell its story. The same is already happening in areas of the livestock and poultry industry.
"How did we get so crazy?" he asked of people today, referring to the "Disney-esque ecotopia" that exists.
People blame the farmer, the logger or the miner because activists like Woody Harrelson and Meryl Streep "spew disinformation" so often that it is taken as fact. Vincent said farmers need to tell the real story.
"Every day is Earth Day for a farmer," he said.
With the drought affecting such a large part of the country, one would think the Dust Bowl of the 1930s would have returned.
"We didn't have a dust bowl because farmers have been implementing a green environment for decades," Vincent said.
Farmers need to tell that story, he said. They still have time.
In 2006, loggers like the Vincent family lost their license and their ability to make a living in the timber industry. It isn't over, though. There is now a Healthy Forest Initiative in place, and logging will eventually return.
Vincent referred to the logging industry as a piñata, and the next piñatas looming before environmental activists are water and wildlife.
His message to farmers in preparation: "Democracy works, but it's not a spectator sport -- if we don't stand with them, how do we expect them to stand up for us?" and "Decisions are made by those who show up."
"Advocating is part of doing business," Vincent said, encouraging attendees to donate an hour a week to promoting agriculture. "America is ready. They're so sick of 'the sky is falling', they're tired of hearing what's wrong -- they're ready to hear what's (good).
"They want a reason for hope, and we can give it to them," he added. "We sometimes think America doesn't like us. That is not the case. They don't know us. They want to know you -- they want to meet you."
Vincent's development of the Provider Pals program does just that -- it gets people who live and work in the natural science industries like agriculture to connect with students in small cities and large metropolitan areas across the country.
"This is what I donate my hour for -- building a bridge of understanding between us and the next generation," he added.
The Provider Pals program will be presented at Worthington Middle School today, featuring a turkey farmer, soybean producer, logger and pork producer.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.