Kerry has plan to help the forests
Presidential candidate John Kerry seems to have ruffled some Western politicos’ feathers with his national plan for “their” forests, judging by their squawking. In particular, his idea to take away $100 million in subsidies from timber companies and instead use this money for forest restoration – that is, paying to cut down the small flammable tress we want to instead of the big fire resistant ones the timber companies want – is downright revolutionary. Add in the benefits of fuel reduction in the red zone where houses meet the forest, year-round employment for these brush cutters, and a separate well-funded budget for firefighting that doesn’t eat into this fuel reduction and it all makes too much sense.Western Republicans in particular have a hard time understanding the “national” in national forests. Anyone who dares to suggest that these lands are part of a national treasure and should be managed for everyone and every future generation is portrayed as “out of touch with the real West” and our use-and-lose-it, bust-and-boom tradition.”Real West” here often translates to destructive resource extraction interests who coincidentally are very generous with their campaign contributions to “real” politicians.Former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot, now chairman of Bush-Cheney ”04, is one of the most virulent critics. Racicot is infamous as the governor who ordered the shooting of 1,000 bison out of a herd of 4,000 around Yellowstone Park. Their crime: Their traditional migration from the public land of Yellowstone to the public land of the Gallatin National Forest. Eight ranchers had grazing rights in these forest lands and bison pose a small risk of transmitting the disease brucellosis to cattle. Most of the bison killed tested negative for brucellosis. But once they left the safety of the park, on packed snow created by snowmobile trails, they were out of luck. Solutions without slaughter could have involved moving cattle from these national forest lands permanently or temporarily while the bison gave birth, and vaccinating the cows and bison.Despite an outcry from the public against this slaughter of bison on their land, there was no compromise. There’s some nice symbolism for the future use of public lands under Bush-Cheney: American buffalo, an icon of our wild natural heritage, gunned down for the convenience of commercial interests. Ironically, bison originally caught brucellosis from infected cattle, and elk are much more likely to spread the disease. But hunting interests look out for the elk herds.Continued under-funding is one of the biggest threats to the future of our forests and national parks. It’s a a byproduct of the “all government action-spending is bad” philosophy. Personally, if I value something I usually pay to maintain it. A new bill in Congress would authorize the Forest Service to sell off under-used land it owns in the White River National Forest to supplement its budget shortfalls. One of these is the Meadow Mountain visitor center and parking area, a local example of how continued cost-cutting affects our use of public lands. Other cost-cutting plans are the user fee program, reduced hours at visitor centers, reduced ranger activity and increasing outsourcing of Forest Service jobs and services to private companies. That experienced, knowledgeable ranger who works for the love of the land and public service will be replaced by a minimum wage McJob.Bush recently announced his proposal to end roadless area protection in the national forests. The “roadless rule” received by far the most public support in Forest Service history, but the public apparently isn’t a part of the “real” West. Bush’s Orwellian-named “Healthy Forests Initiative” further limits public input. These few roadless areas, an irreplaceable resource of old growth and wildness, instead must rely on the whims of state governors to petition for their protection. State governors don’t always see that these lands belong to all Americans, only the well-connected ones in their state. It’s a tough job balancing the needs of all forest users, one that demands honest communication and collaboration. Bush dumped a 10-year collaborative process among all parties that developed a management plan for the Sierra’s 11 national forests. He opted for more logging. One example is a proposal to open 64,000 acres in Giant Sequoia National Monument to logging at a taxpayer subsidy of $14 million.Public land issues are so complex that it can be hard to see the forest for the trees, and mistakes will be made. To me, it comes down to trust. Who in good faith is going to see these lands as the priceless place they are and want to invest in and nurture them so we all can enjoy them for years to come? Diverting $100 million from timber company subsidies to forest health programs starts to convince me that Kerry cares.Judging by his record, Bush sees public lands as wasteful government. Their only use, a source of revenue and resources for industry who should then have the major say in their development. Conservation of the land for its own sake doesn’t mix with this marketplace-only philosophy and has a low priority.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.