Environment, economy can co-exist

Let’s acknowledge something right up front. Many of the Idahoans pleading for fewer governmental regulations have a vested interest in what that would mean to them: More money.
But what if a relaxed regulatory environment not only preserved some of our most precious natural resources, but actually enhanced them? Would you then be opposed to higher business profits if it also means more jobs, more revenue multiplying throughout our communities, and a much healthier American economy?
After studying forestry issues for many years and meeting this week with a group of timber industry experts, the editorial board of this newspaper is convinced that barriers to sensible timber harvests should be removed not just to boost Idaho industry, but to help the forests themselves.
Going back two decades or more to research conducted by Professor Wally Covington of Northern Arizona University, among others, a preponderance of science supports the conclusion that thinning and actively maintaining our forests is the best way to preserve them and to assist Mother Nature in other ways, too. Thinning and actively maintaining includes harvesting timber. Doing so creates jobs and bolsters the economy, but it also clears debris which feeds forest fires threatening human life and property while also harboring harmful insects and disease which will ruin otherwise healthy trees. There is no solid argument, environmentally or economically, for a hands-off management style with our state and national forests.
So where’s the roadblock? With timber harvests there are several.
* One is a handful of environmental organizations bent on tying up potential harvests through litigation. We emphasize that this is a small group completely unrepresentative of the vast majority of conscientious environmentalists, but these few go to great lengths to assert their misguided ideology. They will tie up potential timber sales in court for years, trying to outlast the marketability of the timber and the staying power of the harvesters. Greater expedience at the judicial level would help overcome this roadblock.
* Another is the unreasonable cost – a million dollars or more – for a single mandated Environmental Impact Statement, even for a small timber sale. High environmental standards can be maintained with a far less expensive, protracted EIS process.
* Yet another is industry’s inability to access more timber on federal lands. In Idaho, four of every five acres of forest is federally managed, yet federal lands provide just 10 percent of the overall harvest. Greater cooperation between forest industry, state and federal forest management could lead to a profound improvement in the economy while also increasing the health of forests that belong to all of us.
Many of today’s barriers were built a half century or more ago. Clear-cutting trees, ripping minerals and metals from the ground and dumping contaminants into rivers and lakes gave birth to a bureaucracy that now is regulating America to its knees. Today’s timber, mining and manufacturing interests are paying mightily for the sins of their predecessors.
Now it’s time for the pendulum to swing back toward a middle ground which protects the environment while helping resource-rich America reach its economic potential. Economy and environment can live happily together. For the sake of future generations of Americans, they must.

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