People in the West must prove they can protect the environment while logging and mining if they expect the nation to allow them more control of public lands.
“We have to get some success on the board so all sides can trust us,” U.S. Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said.
Crapo was one of eight people - from Clinton administration officials to environmentalists - participating in a Thursday panel discussion on using consensus to resolve natural resource conflicts.
The discussion comes as Western states intensify their call for local control of federal lands. It highlighted an annual meeting of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association.
Kim Taylor-Thompson, a Stanford University law professor, prodded the panel to find a fix. She presented a hypothetical national forest in Idaho and asked how local citizens could manage it.
Congress could set the broad goals and the community could have five years to develop a management plan to meet those goals. That plan would be in effect for 10 years, Taylor-Thompson said.
Most of the panelists agreed that it’s a great idea. Several raised serious questions.
“You’ve got to show me how to stop the litigation,” said Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and former U.S. Interior Secretary. There has to be some finality, “some end to the appeals.”
Mountain States Legal Foundation President William Perry Pendley had the most radical suggestion: Don’t let citizens sue over environmental issues.
Crapo offered a more cautious approach. Most litigation over environmental and natural resource issues is contesting processes, he said.
“Change the process, so the federal government is setting the standards - the air quality standard or the water quality standard - and let the local people figure out how to meet the standard,” Crapo said. “Given the opportunity to make the decision, they would protect the resource.”
There probably isn’t the political will in Congress, however, to transfer so much authority over environmental issues into local hands, he said.
Ed Marston, publisher of the environmental biweekly “High Country News,” cautioned against taking the broader, national interest out of the equation. “I think you have to be clear that these are federal lands,” Marston said.
“You need the internalization of national values here and then you need to let the national (environmental) values be implemented here.”
The panelists detailed other hurdles such as giving environmental groups economic incentive to work things out locally - such as timber sale receipts going to wildlife habitat improvement. There also will have to be honest brokers who can say no to all sides.
Local people will have to have reasonable management challenges.
A community can reasonably decide what national forest land is right for wilderness and what’s right for logging, said Tom France, of the National Wildlife Federation. But annual logging levels? “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
A persistent theme in the panel discussion was the feeling that Easterners don’t understand Western issues and shouldn’t be allowed at the bargaining table. Suggestions ranged from educating them to excluding them.
“I think on some of these issues they ought to be ignored,” Pendley, of the Mountain States Legal Foundation said. “We can’t do to them what they can do to us.”
Marston, of “High Country News,” pointed out there is more of a balance than perceived. Westerners have successfully kept gun control largely at bay against the wishes of Easterners, he said. Western politics have much to do with the abortion debate, he said.
Eliminating the “Eastern” or urban perspective just won’t happen, Kahn argued. And Montanans don’t complain when they receive $1.38 from the federal treasury for every $1 they contribute.
Equally significant: “We sell timber to the folks back east, we sell beef to them,” France said.
“Urbanites are going to participate.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo