Leaders with big picture view needed to overhaul public lands management

Sometimes, the problems are overwhelming.

Take the national debt, for example, which reached $20 trillion for the first time in history.

That is obviously insane and casts shame upon our legislators, as a whole, that the budget is funded with such reckless financial mismanagement, due to which adds more than $1.5 billion in debt every day.

And you think your credit card fees are bad.

While this issue – based on past performance – looks to have no solution within our lifetimes or those generations to come, we may have a better chance to address another pressing matter as regards the ongoing debate with management of public lands.

This comes to mind as last week, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted fiscal year as the most expensive on record as far as wildland fire suppression costs: in excess of $2 billion.

Just interesting that each day the national debt grows with about the amount it has taken for fighting fires all year.

For Secretary Sonny Perdue, the solution is calling upon Congress to fix the way the agency’s fire suppression efforts are funded, as the interagency borrowing to pay for suppression costs cuts into the agency’s forest management operations.

From this chair, this looks to be a short-term “Let’s throw money at it” fix that really will come down to robbing one agency to feed this one, or authorizing additional funding, with the result being further dollars added daily to the national debt.

What is needed are leaders who have a view of the big picture to step forward and propose the nation needs an overhaul of how it manages its federal lands. And those problems would take all of our fingers and toes, as well as those of our neighbors, to tick off. But to name a few:

What of the large, plodding bureaucracies that extend decisions into decades in the name of process and political appeasement? What of the Hatfield-McCoy feud between industry and environmentalism that perpetuates argument and discourages dialogue? Why such the animosity for harvesting as a management tool, and, on that same note, in allowing natural processes such as fire for this as well? Why do we continue with archaic management styles that resist change, are inefficient, and do not adapt well to how communities and consumers using our public lands need to be served?

In 1994, President Bill Clinton’s Forest Summit sat the players – loggers, environmentalists, and all those in between – to hash out those conflicts of salmon and spotted owls to get a compromise to move progress forward. Not an effort hailed much today nor really remembered, but from its roots grew cooperative efforts that brought real attempts toward change. Secure Rural Schools was such a compromise that – while not the perfect solution — six years later provided hard-hit timber-dependent rural communities a stable funding source while also provided for forest health and management programs.

For today, what we need is less a showpiece summit and more a pragmatic “boots on the ground” advisory group that is supported by leaders with backbones – not wishbones – who will deliver on commitments to act on its recommendations, while kicking partisan grandstanders to the curb who seek to derail this process.

It’s a daunting effort, but worth yet another risk. Success here brings its own rewards of healthy lands, open for multiple public uses of both recreation and commerce, and thriving rural communities who have more economic control of their destinies.

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