Let's support taxpayer restoration

  Dear HCN,

Thanks for your feature on ecological restoration (-Working the Land Back to Health," HCN, 3/1/99). However, as an ardent conservationist and a small business owner, I was annoyed by Ed Marston's introduction. "In a time of tight public money," he writes, "restoration depends on creating economies that can produce healthy land and profits, and creating economies is not something environmentalists are very good at."

This analysis is deficient in at least two ways. First of all, what "time of tight public money" is he talking about? Every politician in Washington is crowing about a surplus. We can debate whether this surplus is real or based on fancy bookkeeping; nonetheless, most of our public servants want us to believe they are raising more than they are spending.

This is public money - your money. Would you rather see it spent on Star Wars and corporate welfare, or on restoring public landscapes to provide clean water, clean air, habitat for other creatures, recreation and tourism opportunities, etc.?

Secondly, if environmentalists have done a poor job of "creating economies," well, who's done better? For generations, extractive industries have fueled the boom-and-bust cycles that debilitate Western communities. Subsidized ranching provides minimal employment, at significant environmental costs, for the public money invested. According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Forest Service logging program lost nearly $800 million last year. Is this any way to build a sustainable economy?

A coalition of businesses, hunters, birders, municipalities and conservationists recently filed a lawsuit challenging the socio-economic justification of the Forest Service logging program. Their premise: Forests have more economic value standing than cut. For example, the town of Oakridge, Ore., had to drill water wells (at taxpayer expense) because their surface sources were ruined by silt from clear-cuts. The Seventh Generation paper company signed onto the suit to highlight how subsidized pulp logs unfairly compete with recycled products. Locally owned firms, ranging from outfitters to medicinal plant gatherers, have discovered - surprise! - that industrial logging is bad for business.

As your story points out, any forest restoration strategy in the Southwest must involve tree thinning. Should we offer this work to logging firms, or do we end commercial logging and use the current subsidy to support a public works restoration program?

Andy Robinson

Tucson, Arizona

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