ADIOS NATIONAL FORESTS?
For Immediate Release
February 20, 2012
The late Ted Trueblood, a noted Idaho outdoor writer and conservationist, said of the so-called sagebrush rebellion of the late 70s and early 80s, “They’re fixin’ to steal your land.” Friends of the Clearwater is calling attention to three new proposals that threaten to wrest control of national forests from citizens, and instead place them in the hands of special interests.
The first of these is the contentious Lochsa Land Exchange on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. The Forest Service just closed the comment period on an alternative that is illegal for them to implement. This option would trade away private, cutover land in the upper Lochsa, for highly valuable, low-elevation land near the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon Rivers.
Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater said, “The government accountability office has reported that public land exchanges are usually not in the public interest. Rather, they are frequently driven by a desire of private landowners to gain valuable public land. If the Forest Service truly listens to public concerns, the agency will realize that the only viable option to obtain the upper Lochsa into public ownership is through a purchase involving the cooperation of citizens and interested entities.”
The second is a proposal by five county commissions in Idaho to wrest control of 200,000 acres of national forest land, and exempting there management from most environmental laws. Ironically, the county commissioners would still expect the US citizens to pay for firefighting costs.
The third involves proposed policy changes which could limit opportunities for genuine public involvement. Under the auspice of collaboration—which, as practiced, isn’t open to every US citizen—the Forest Service is proposing major changes to the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). In the latter case, the regulations are in there final form and awaiting formal approval.
Brett Haverstick, of Friends of the Clearwater said, “NEPA is the bedrock environmental law that guarantees public participation before decisions are made. Citizens should be extremely skeptical of agency efforts that seek to limit democratic public involvement.”
Macfarlane concluded by noting, “The threat today may be even greater than in the late 70s and early 80s, as many conservation-minded citizens are unaware of these proposals. Chief Tidwell should reject efforts that seek to make public involvement a pro-forma exercise after a behind-the-scenes deal has already been made. Open democracy takes time. Rather than seeking political, fast-track decisions on national forest issues, the Forest Service should keep an open mind until after the public involvement and analysis process is over. If that is done, then the agency will be able to make better decisions for our national forests and the public. If not, then it’s Adios National Forests.”