National forests aren’t a political football

Last month there was a new wrinkle in the debate over national forest management. In an attempt to save money, New Hampshire’s U.S. Sen. John Sununu, through an amendment to a federal spending bill, proposed to limit construction of new roads on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Although we applaud the senator’s attempt to save money, we are greatly concerned by his disregard for the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The foundation of NFMA is the development of management plans by those who know their forest best — the local forest users and managers. From this foundation come management plans that allocate resources reflecting the local community’s needs (New Hampshire’s own White Mountain National Forest is currently wrapping up the revision of its own management plan – a process that has taken over a decade).

How can a U.S. senator from New Hampshire tell the local community and land managers of southeastern Alaska how they should manage their forest? And what is to prevent any other U.S. senator from proposing similar restrictions to the White Mountain National Forest? Or, for a more relevant and real example, what is to prevent a replay of the ill-conceived Clinton era roadless rule, where the executive branch of the federal government placed restrictions on road construction and land management on certain areas of the White Mountain National Forest, despite what New Hampshire’s citizens and the U.S. Forest Service decided through the White Mountain National Forest management plan?

It is clear that through his amendment, Senator Sununu continues to make management of our national forests a political football where important land management decisions are being made by Washington politicians and not the local communities or land managers.

If Senator Sununu believes Tongass is spending too much money, hold the U.S. Forest Service more accountable for all their program costs and, if needed, cut the Forest Service’s budget, but don’t tell the local community and land managers how to spend their money.

Management decisions are best made at the local level.

Jasen Stock is executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. This article originally appeared in the organization’s “NHTOA Forest Fax” newsletter.

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