Don't glorify Babbitt


Dear HCN,

As a forester for 20-odd years and as a follower of HCN's coverage of Western resource issues, I still hold out hope for improvements in the effectiveness and acceptability of public resource stewardship, despite the ongoing media and propaganda warfare. Overall, I agree with a minority of HCN's slants on things, disagree with the rest, but try to remain objective by reading all sides of issues. Your back-page opinion piece on Jan. 15, however, irked me enough to comment. The column started out fairly for the first third, then degraded into a form of hero worship dealing with Clinton and Babbitt for the remainder. I was surprised that Green Al Gore was overlooked in the accolades.

I don't see how you can say that "Babbitt has forged a public-lands policy for the West" when, in reality, most of the West is wrestling with the lack of a comprehensive, implementable policy. And I don't see how you can claim that Babbitt merged the environmental positions with the wants and needs of the Interior West. My read is that nothing is merging toward consensus or solution.

Then there is the phrase, "Clinton and Babbitt dramatized their mastery of the public lands ..." and further praise for the Forest Service "protecting" all that roadless land. Any mastery in D.C. has been of a questionable, sleazy manipulation of the process, mainly to go out with a so-called legacy, which down the road will partly be overturned by subsequent masters of the process.

How can you say that Babbitt has been "protective of rural economies" and that he has been a "tough-minded friend to the logging industry" when both segments of the Interior West are continuing to suffer from recent presidential proclamations?

Lastly, you continue to refer to forestry and the timber industry as "extractive," which is incorrect. Forest management is the most renewable practice applicable to natural resources and should be promoted as a solution to some of the nation's energy, pollution, solid waste, and nonrenewable industry problems. Saving forests from management is actually not saving but is promoting worse resource consumption and environmental effects in the U.S. and globally.

Are you proud to be squelching the Forest Service and necessary forestry? Your drift is that the public consists of people other than those who do all the resource production in the country, and that whatever the public wants, they should get. To hell with those in rural areas devoted to producing food and fiber for the urban majority.

There is a community of place, although we're in the minority, that is just as important as the community of opinion to which you cater. Some of us do believe that those of us who live in the rural areas and rely on natural resources for our communities should count as much as or more than those distant masters of public lands who depend on our outputs but fail to acknowledge the connection.

Glenn Koepke
St. Regis, Montana

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