You've got to love environmentalists. Their responses are so predictable.
The other day, the U.S. Forest Service admitted it was wrong in its 1995 forecast that visits to national forests would contribute $111 billion to the gross annual product by 2000.
In 2002, the actual total was only $11 billion a number based on the total of visitors in the forests and calculation of how much the average person spends in the area visited.
''Would I expect anything different from the Bush administration?'' fumed Michael Francis, a director at the Wilderness Society. ''No. They will cook the books for whatever they want.''
Only problem for greenie Francis is that if anybody cooked the books, it was Bill Clinton's people. The forecast was guesswork; the revised numbers are based on verifiable attendance.
In 1995, Clinton administration officials predicted that the national forests would see 800 million visitors each year by 2000. The actual number counted in 2002 under the National Visitor Use Monitoring Program was 200 million visitors.
The agency now estimates that each visitor spends $46. That number came from interviews showing how much visitors spend within 50 miles of a forest on a single day. The service apparently used a somewhat higher number in 1995, since 800 million visitors spending $46 a day would amount to only $37 billion, a third of the Clinton era guesstimate.
Did anyone at the Forest Service cook the books to please the White House, then or now? That seems unlikely, no matter what suspicions greens might have.
Forest Service planner Greg Alward told The Washington Post that his agency didn't inflate the earlier figures and simply relied on ''the best available data at the time.''
Critics of the Bush administration are all aflap and claim the White House will use the new information to justify more logging and mining in the forests. We hope their worries prove justified, especially in Alaska.
The logging industry is in terrible shape here because it has been virtually locked out of the national forests. Mining is growing stronger, but there are many more prospects worth exploring. Forest Service signs advertise that a national forest is a ''land of many uses'' but the concept has been downplayed in policy-making for years.
Recreation is an important activity in the forests, but for much of its history the service strived to achieve a balance among the various users. The new information will allow a more appropriate allocation of manpower and budget.
Visitors who come to Alaska in part to visit its tremendous national forests undoubtedly spend more than $46 a day. But getting a firm fix on the exact number would be difficult.
In any case, the new information will allow better decision-making.
Voice of the Times, Anchorage
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