The Right Coast

July 13, 2004
A step toward more rational public lands management
By Tom Smith

In a nutshell, the environmentalists want public lands declared roadless to protect them from development. The problem is, what this means in practice is that forest land, like that in Idaho, doesn't get managed at all. The trees build up fuel and after some years of fuel build-up, drought and disease, there is a catastrophic fire. Forests are destroyed, habitats are ruined, homes are destroyed. This line that these areas must be preserved for wildlife and recreationists is, to put it in the delicate Idaho way, a pile of moose crap. I have spent a fair amount of time in Idaho wilderness areas and other wildernesses. There's nothing less recreational than a burned out forest. The old environmenalist preservationist line is just completely, intellectually bankrupt. It represents the triumph of an irrational, unscientific ideology over both good science and common sense. This approach to preserving forests destroys forests. It is as if environmentalists are so opposed to logging, they would rather see a forest destroyed by fire than preserved through logging.

The new Bush policy will incorporate more state level participation in management decisions. These means there is at least a chance that people in places like Idaho, Montana and Colorado will get a chance to bring about policies that actually take forests as recreational resources seriously. I'm not even talking here about balancing timber industry interests against anything else. I personally don't care that much about the timber industry. But I and lots of other Westerners have just had it with environmentalists who think Mother Gaia or the White Goddess will somehow magically manage stands of Poderosa Pine so long as we don't desecrate them with the wheels of our pickups. Unbelievable rubbish. Forests have to be thinned with controlled logging, and cleared occassionally with controlled burns. Some roads are necessary to do this, and to make the areas accessible to hikers, hunters and others. Sweeping declarations of roadless status for millions of acres is misty eyed environmentalism over solid policy based on how trees grow, how fires burn and how people get to the wilderness and what they do there. It is hard to live next to forests, and many people in the West do, and be as stupid about them as most of the environmental lobbyists in Washington seem to be. That's why a more federalist approach to land management policy makes sense.