Local control right answer for forest management rules

Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Since the Revolutionary War and probably before Americans have preferred to control their own destiny.

So it's refreshing to hear the federal government say it would like states to decide whether to ban road building in remote areas of national forests. Instead of the federal government in Washington, D.C., telling Americans thousands of miles away how to oversee their forests, it would like to leave it to the locals, also Americans and also the owners of the forest with the most expertise and common sense about it.

The Bush administration would like to lift a national rule that closed remote areas of national forests to road building, usually done by the timber industry in an effort to harvest trees.

A replacement rule would allow governors to petition the federal government to block road building. If governors didn't file a petition, then the areas would be open to road building.

The new rule would have two very important results. First, it would increase voters' interest in gubernatorial elections; and second, the people enjoying the beauty and making a living in an area would be the decision-makers. They would decide on the extent of road building.

There is no one better than the people depending on a variety of industries, such as fishing, timber and tourism in the Tongass National Forest, to decide what should be roaded, which should be harvested, and where preservation should occur. Because the people working here and in and around other national forests live here not only for a job, but also for the lifestyle. They meld a job and a love for outdoor recreation and can best balance those to the benefit of all.

The new rule will affect 58 million of the 191 million acres of national forests. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register and take effect after a 60-day comment period and review.

It would replace a federal rule adopted in the final days of the Clinton administration. That rule is being challenged in court. The new rule probably would end that challenge, but more than likely would prompt a new challenge by timber harvest opponents.

And back and forth the legal challenges go from one administration to the next, depending on the political party in power.

Moving the debate over road building to each state at a more local level than a capital thousands of miles away is likely to reduce the sharp turns from one forest management policy to another. One sharp turn after another does neither side in the argument over roads in remote areas of the national forest any good. It just leaves people arguing.

Local control will result in hardy debate, no doubt about it. But locals also will come to a resolution as a result of that debate something a lot less likely to happen at the federal level. That resolution will be based on common sense applied by those who know best local residents.

The Ketchikan Daily News

July 14

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