I applaud Annie Conner and the Clearwater National Forest in their efforts to erase roads and recreate some semblance of an ecologically viable system in north-central Idaho (HCN, 11/8/99).
Although I, too, have used many a Forest Service road, I will gladly curtail my off-road driving time for the good of the system, of which I am but a small part, and the enjoyment of those able to enjoy such a space without the aid of internal combustion. I want to make clear that I wholly support a gentle, restorative ecology. I also have some questions.
If I understand correctly, most of those Forest Service roads were built for the timber companies, not by them, through healthy government subsidies and incentives. Now, after the timber industry has made its monies, leaving a much-changed landscape and a "boom-bust" local economy in its wake, the taxpayer is being called upon again to remove these roads (a use of my tax dollars I actually feel comfortable about).
But why is it that my government will create a road for a timber company, cut a swath for an electric utility company and impound water for ranching, yet won't maintain a simple hiking trail unless I personally pay for it? I am not oblivious to the swiftly mounting visitation pressures these Forest Service lands, and personnel, are facing. Two things would seem to be a logical outgrowth of such a reality: an aggressive lands-use education campaign, to allow our young to be informed recreators in the future, and an increase in tax dollars being spent (not collected) on maintaining those unique landscapes for current and future generations.
Yet, what do I see? My government, which continues to subsidize logging on my national lands, as well as mining and an overabundance of ranching, is now asking that I pay an additional fee, at the door. If coal can be taken, and turned to profit, and lumber can be taken, and turned to profit; if water can be taken and turned to profit, why can't I take a hike?