The Lake County Conservation District’s proposed Swan Forest Initiative sounds like a “win-win” proposition to some, however, as the saying goes “Be careful what you wish for.” I applaud the work of our nation’s 3,000 locally controlled Conservation Districts, which have worked across the country to protect land and water resources since the 1930s.
In the early 70s, as a recent college graduate, I was fortunate enough to work for a county Conservation District and gained some insight into their program. The idea of temporarily transferring management responsibility of 60,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands in northeastern Lake County to the state/county for the primary purpose of producing revenue for local citizens can only be described as a “land grab.” With counties across our country facing economic challenges, which counties would not like to sell some other agency’s resources to support local program needs? We are a nation of laws that protect all of our citizens from sporadic, “well meaning” initiatives that attempt to shift the balance of interests to favor one group over another.
Fortunately, this proposal is illegal under existing law and if laws were changed, where would it stop? Would Glacier County like to develop water resources in Glacier National Park? Would Park County, Wyoming sell grazing rights to lands in Yellowstone National Park? Or is it just the lands of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that would be available for county exploitation. Sounds ridiculous, but is it? I have no doubt that the Lake County Conservation Board members that voted to pursue this initiative have the best interests of their program at heart, but this is a flawed idea. U.S. citizens value their public lands too much to open them up to local exploitation.