Land Transfer Would Disenfranchise Americans

Federal public lands are a globally unique American treasure. They exist for all Americans because our forefathers had the foresight and wisdom to bequeath to us a vast public estate

By Dave Hadden

If Dave Skinner’s July 30 column, “Why Land Transfer Might Work” is the best he can do in arguing for the theft of federal public lands by western states then he has already lost.

I assume Mr. Skinner is an American. As such he’s entitled to as much of Montana’s federal lands as you or me. No more. No less. Yet somehow he argues with a straight face that disenfranchising 313 million other Americans of their birthright is the morally correct thing to do. I suspect that even Mr. Skinner would be dismayed by his own self-interest if he lived in Ohio or Florida.

Federal public lands are a globally unique American treasure. They exist for all Americans because our forefathers had the foresight and wisdom to bequeath to us a vast public estate. Contained within this legacy are millions of acres of our most pristine lands, the sources of our clean water, and habitat for our fish and wildlife. And yes, our national forest system lands.

Mr. Skinner tries to paint opposition to the land transfer idea as partisan: favored by Republicans, opposed by Democrats. This is incorrect. In fact, historically, Republicans and Democrats have hammered out federal public land legislation and found agreement.

Abe Lincoln (R) established the Department of Agriculture (1862). Teddy Roosevelt (R) created the national forests (1905). Nixon’s (R) signature created the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), the Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Air Act (1970), Earth Week (1971), the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

Mr. Skinner asserts that our federal national forests are mismanaged by the U.S. Forest Service. This is also incorrect. The USFS administers the laws dictated to them by Congress that sometimes conflict in their purpose. It is the unenviable job of the men and women in the USFS to navigate the web of laws and regulations, the pressures from industry, and the challenges by environmental interests.

If there’s a “problem with USFS management” the responsibility may more fairly be placed on Congress and people with extreme points of view in general. If national forest management is to improve along the lines that Mr. Skinner advocates (more timber and less wilderness, more roads and poorer water quality) then it falls to Congress to fix it.

But how likely is Congress to fix Mr. Skinner’s problem? Not very likely with people like Mr. Skinner himself advocating the extreme “no brainer” (as in “idiotic”) idea of transfer of America’s federal public lands to western state control.

What’s a better way? Fortunately, people throughout western Montana are demonstrating how to solve national forest management problems. How? By working together to find consensus solutions. What a novel concept!

Examples of these Montana citizen collaborative efforts include the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, North Fork Watershed Protection Act, the Whitefish Range Partnership, and others. Real people came together and found mutually beneficial ways forward without wholesale disposal of our treasured national forests. Tweaks rather than a lobotomy.

Unfortunately, the above collaborative solutions require Congressional action that would settle land management debates for the foreseeable future.

But this is where Mr. Skinner is most like Congress. He advocates a very extreme position without regard for the rest of America. That’s the same polarization we see in our dominant two political parties today. Mr. Skinner’s no-brainer solution would rob the rest of America of a priceless national inheritance.

Don’t be fooled. Get involved in the ongoing Flathead National Forest management plan revision effort and participate in civil public dialogue. Most importantly, enjoy – and take responsibility for – your national forests.

Dave Hadden, executive director
Headwaters Montana

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