By Martin J. Kidston
Its too bad that most presidents wait until their term has nearly come to an end before they try to establish an environmental legacy.
Im not talking about President Clinton. Im talking about his predecessors those who make it easy to criticize their wait-until-my-term-is-over-policy before doing their environmental deed.
But to mock that single deed at the end of a presidents term would be like looking the environmental gift-horse in the mouth. I, myself, am thankful for the slightest efforts toward conservation, but its the big in-your-face efforts that really bring a smile to my face.
Last week President Clinton moved to make history and establish the strongest environmental legacy since President Roosevelt when he declared that he would protect whats left of this nations roadless areas within our National Forest System. Its a grand idea that should be placed in lights and followed without further consideration.
But for every no-brained effort (which this seems to be), theres always opposition from a hair-brained leader out to thwart humanitys best intentions id est, Conrad Burns, Montanas beloved Republican senator.
Im not fond of bashing our political leaders, no matter how distorted their perspective may be. After all, they do a thankless job and never seem to have the comfort of pleasing everybody. But then again, I dont have that comfort either, so maybe my sympathy is hastily extended, and my political apprehension has been withheld for all the wrong reasons.
On Oct. 13, President Clinton released an order to the Secretary of Agriculture, directing the National Forest Service to develop and propose for public comment regulations that would establish long-term protection of roadless areas in national forests. Later that day, Burns released his own battle cry regarding the conservation plan.
In an attempt to lead his flock, Burns said the presidents 50 million-acre withdrawal will impact Montana, even though its been said by other sources that only one percent of the Montana logging industry will be affected. Burns then said this conservation proposal is an effort to play politics with the livelihood of Montanans, and that the proposal is a decision made without input by Montanans.
Oddly, in 1992, the U.S. Forest Service sponsored a poll that showed two out of three Montana residents opposed construction of new federal logging roads in roadless areas.
Sounds to me like Montanans do have an input, and have shared that input on a public level. The poll was no secret, and because it was no secret, it begs a further question of Burns: Why doesnt he know this?
Out of touch comes to mind, but I dont think its with the Montana public, but rather, with common sense.
But like I said, Im not fond of bashing political leaders, so Ill give Burns the benefit of the doubt, that is to say he is aware of Montanas poll support for the conservation plan.
But if thats true why doesnt he care?
Whichever, whatever the Montana Wilderness Association saw it coming nearly seven months before Burns sounded off on the issue.
Back in March, Dennis Tighe of the MWA said, Predictably, politicians like Senator Burns will try to derail any kind of conservation policy for Montanas wild forest lands Senator Burns treats public lands and resources as political pork for corporate contributors.
Though Burns response was right on cue with his record, the facts concerning the presidents conservation plan speak louder.
Too often, the President said, we have favored resource extraction over conservation, degrading our forests and the critical natural values they sustain.
Of the 17 million acres of national forest in Montana, Clintons proposal would protect approximately 6 million acres. Thats only 1/3 of the states national forest lands, and its not too much to ask for at least it wouldnt seem like it is.
But then again, for the hair-brained exploiters who see a price tag on every tree, a trophy on every rack and the rising price of gold in every creek, such a progressive conservation plan is probably beyond their comprehensive grasp.
It appears that some among us still think were at the dawning of the industrial age, as opposed to a greener millennium.