Here's a preview of our Sunday editorial.
Rep. Raul Labrador is absolutely right about the plight of our nation’s forests, and the plight of rural communities in Western timber country.
A sustainable, well-managed timber harvest will reduce the risk of forest fire — and provide sustainable revenue for rural schools and local governments.
Labrador’s priorities are sound. His prescription — a divisive piece of legislation — is flawed.
Labrador’s Self-Sufficient Communities Lands Act would allow states to run pilot management plans on some U.S. Forest Service parcels. He knows his bill will go nowhere in a divided Congress. Its prospects hinge on Labrador’s fellow Republicans building on their control of the House by capturing the Senate and the White House.
And that speaks volumes about Labrador’s approach. When other Idaho Republicans have embraced collaboration — as current Sen. and former Gov. Jim Risch did on roadless lands policy, as Sen. Mike Crapo did on the Owyhees wilderness bill, as Rep. Mike Simpson is seeking to do with a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill — Labrador eschews it.
Labrador’s bill is as popular with Idaho county officials as it is unpopular with environmentalists. Can that be any surprise?
• County officials proposed this legislative concept, hoping the state pilot programs will generate much-needed revenue for local services.
Counties have a valid concern. When receipts from timber sales went into freefall, the budgetary axe fell in timber-rich communities with a scant property tax base. Since 2000, Congress has provided funding to replace timber receipts, but this has become a hand-to-mouth proposition. A far-reaching budget compromise included a one-year extension worth $27.4 million to Idaho counties; Labrador voted no.
We agree that these communities need new, sustainable revenue. Given the sense of urgency, they also need a bill that has a better chance of becoming law, not one tailored to score political points.
• Environmentalists are made the scapegoat.
Consider this quote, from a one-page fact sheet on the bill. “Over the last several decades, radical environmental groups have hindered the ability to develop timber from our public lands. Counties that were once dependent upon timber receipts to fund schools, roads and daily operations were left desolate and broke.”
And consider the language in Labrador’s bill, which leaves management of pilot projects to a local board of trustees. The only groups guaranteed a seat are local governments, the timber industry, grazing interests and recreational users. Collaboration is inherently inclusive; this bill is inherently exclusionary.
Good public policy hinges on balance. The same applies to good public lands management. When a public lands bill is written to favor some interests over others, the result cannot be good for the resource.
U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell recognizes the problems facing rural counties, but his concern with Labrador’s bill is persuasive. As he told the Statesman editorial board recently, he is uneasy about gearing lands management toward a single purpose such as logging — departing from the multiple-use approach that has been a Forest Service cornerstone since 1905.
In a separate editorial board meeting, Labrador said he understands Tidwell’s concerns, but Labrador believes states would uphold multiple-use principles. We’d hope so, but when only select interests have a say in management decisions, that doesn’t bode well.
Forest health and funding for rural communities are important issues, deserving a more delicate, collaborative bill.