Guest Opinion: States should manage national forest land

When advocating for the founding of national forests, President Theodore Roosevelt listed as a reason for their creation “to preserve the timber supply for various classes of wood users.” Since its founding, New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest has been a shining example of how, with local guidance through the forest planning process, a national forest can be managed to meet Roosevelt’s multiple-use vision.

Today, the state’s largest industry — tourism — coexists with the state’s third-largest manufacturing industry — forest products — in the Whites. New Hampshire’s forestry community has long worked with environmental organizations, recreational users, communities and others to support balanced management on the forest. Additionally, the commercial timber program pays for much of the recreational infrastructure (roads, trails, etc.) in the Whites.

Last month the Bush administration announced a proposal to return decisions on national forest road-building to the local level. According to the proposal, governors would be able to petition the federal government to block road-building on national forests within their states.

The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association enthusiastically supports this new approach to the roadless rule. As envisioned by the Clinton administration, the rule would hobble the ability of local managers to actively manage at least 200,000 acres of the Whites for many uses while removing at least 45,000 acres of the forest from the region’s timber base.

Critics of the Bush proposal have hinted that local governors and elected officials cannot be trusted to make decisions on the management of national forests in their states and that such decisions should be made nationally, according to a “single coherent policy” where such trivial matters as protecting local jobs or responding to the local businesses that create said jobs is not a concern.

This shows a basic misunderstanding of the way the national forests have always been managed.

Today, national forests are treated differently depending on what region of the country they are in and what the facts on the ground are. In fact, the roadless rule varies in the East from the West in how it defines a “roadless” area.

Unlike in the West, where “virgin” forests do indeed exist, almost the entire White Mountain National Forest has been logged at least once, and most of it contains roads. In fact, timber trains once crisscrossed the “pristine” Pemigewassett Wilderness area.

In New Hampshire no one is proposing to punch roads into wild lands. At present more than half the Whites, over 400,000 acres, are off limits to timber harvesting, including large areas designated by Congress as wilderness.

Generations of New Hampshire citizens have supported and participated in the long-term management of the White Mountains’ timber resource. After close to a century, their patience and efforts are beginning to pay off.

The quality of timber in the Whites, particularly of northern hardwoods, is unmatched anywhere else in the nation. To further restrict timber harvesting in the Whites would be the equivalent of not paying Social Security benefits to a retiree. The nation would be turning its back on the loggers, sawmills, forest rangers and citizens who have worked to make the Whites the multiple-use model of efficiency that it is, just as they are about to reap the benefits of their hard work.

Support for local decision-making on national forest management is not as partisan as some detractors insist either. In fact, at the same time she was serving as the chairwoman of Al Gore’s presidential campaign, Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen opposed the roadless rule. New Hampshire’s General Court has also expressed bipartisan support for making land management decisions through the local forest plan revision process.

During this process, people from anywhere in the country can weigh in on how they would like to see the Whites managed. And they do, according to the forest service: 82 percent of the comments on the original notice of intent to update the White Mountains forest plan were from outside of New Hampshire.

President Clinton’s rule was an attempt by national special interest groups to go outside the congressionally mandated forest planning and wilderness designation process to shut lands off to timber management unilaterally. The new Bush administration proposal would reverse this troubling trend toward Washington-knows-best national forest management.

Jasen A. Stock is executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

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