Let's make a (national) deal
When I read the subhead of Jonathan Thompson's article "Wilderness by Committee," I inwardly groaned (HCN, 4/26/10). Thompson wrote: "Federal land protection is all about dealmaking." Here in Montana, we are being confronted with this kind of "dealmaking" in the form of Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the fruit of three separate collaborative processes. The dealmaking involved in the Tester bill would mandate timber harvest in some areas (including some roadless areas) in exchange for wilderness. It also includes provisions that would change the National Environmental Policy Act process and supersede agency jurisdiction over management practices. The collaborative processes that created it excluded some groups and individuals that would have brought a strong wilderness ethic to the table.
Thompson wrote, "These days, if you want to protect an area as wilderness, you'd better be prepared to come to the table and deal with an increasing number of stakeholders, some of whom cynically see wilderness as nothing more than a bargaining chip." While this may be a political reality, it is nonetheless important for wilderness advocates to pay attention to what they're bargaining away in exchange for precious wilderness acres, and to the ramifications their political compromises have for federal land management. The risk when the wrong kinds of compromises are made is that we will end up with "wilderness in name only," or wildernesses in which it is difficult to manage for wilderness character under the terms of the legislated mandate for protection.
As we move towards deciding how to manage these last parcels of wild lands found suitable for wilderness designation, the ecological stakes are high. Dealmaking needs to take the national context into account; in my mind, there is still some doubt as to whether this can be done at a local scale.