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Breaking the gridlock.

NElL SAMPSON, Executive Vice President, AMERICAN FORESTS

The national election may not have delivered a mandate, but it sure contained a message. America's leaders were told to find ways to make government work better. "Stop fighting over problems and start fixing them," people said. "Give us jobs and a healthy economy without destroying the environment."

That's not going to happen simply because a different man goes into the White House. It will happen only if we as a nation take our own message seriously and begin to do what we can do. The "fix" has to start in thousands of places, and the momentum created must proceed in the right direction.

And that direction is pretty clear. We need to spur the economy by doing the kind of work that represents added value today and sound investment for the future. We don't need phony "make-work" jobs, and the public purse can't stand the pressure of paying for them.

The good news in forestry is that there are many jobs available that can bring income, skills, and self-worth to people, produce ample economic products to more than pay for themselves, and enhance the nation's environment significantly in the process. We know what needs to be done from a technical standpoint, and the process could start almost immediately. Beginning the process could provide a model for how government gridlock might be broken and the demands of the electorate met.

There's no bad news here--just a challenge. Why haven't we met it already? Because, in my view, we haven't until now experienced the public impatience that would force the multitude of competing interests involved to come to the table and get down to work. Maybe this election, coupled with the growing awareness that a significant part of the nation's forests are at risk, will provide that energy.

We've told the story before, and we cover it again in this issue of American Forests. There are significant federal forest areas where immediate action is needed to save forests that are headed for serious problems. Where forests have been protected too much, or managed wrong, there can be far too many trees for the available water and nutrients. In those situations, the trees must be thinned or they will become weak and susceptible to whatever pest comes along. Or a fire comes along and, taking advantage of the excessive fuel loads in these too-crowded conditions, kills everything. Those fires can cost millions of dollars to fight, and are often impossible to stop quickly. They can burn up more millions in homes and businesses destroyed, disrupting and even snuffing out people's lives.

In many cases, taking appropriate action can lower these risks, reduce costs, generate income, and restore forest health in the process. The government foresters know in most cases what needs to be done. Increasingly, they recognize that these forests need treatments that are different from an ordinary harvest-and-replant scheme. Often the existing forest can be saved and dramatically improved by a lighter-handed treatment. In the current economic climate, such treatment, even when it takes out mostly dead trees and leaves many valuable trees behind, makes a profit if done properly. Reductions in harvest because of old-growth and spotted-owl protection have driven prices up to where many forest treatments are profitable today that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

But capturing this opportunity will take dramatic changes within the agencies themselves; leaders will need to rearrange priorities and force people to seek new ways to carry out their jobs. It will require that the theory of "ecosystem management" be put into actual practice. It will take a new partnership between forestry agencies, timber companies, and loggers themselves, so that the work on the ground is done to improve the forest instead of just to remove the most valuable timber. Reaching that goal will take training, communication, and cooperation. It will take new involvement by the public, new trust by wary environmental groups, and a new spirit of openness on all sides.

Can we do it? I don't know, but if we can't break the current policy and program gridlock on the federal forests, where can we do it?

The challenge is clear, and the time is now. AMERICAN FORESTS is working with a broad coalition of organizations and agency leaders to find solutions. It will probably take a combination of new legislation, new agency policies and actions in the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and, above all, a new spirit of constructive cooperation among people and organizations in and around the public forests. If those forces begin to work together in a direction that brings positive results to both the economy and the environment, the gridlock will shatter. If they do not, the forests will suffer, the economy will stay stagnant in too many places, and government's reputation for gridlock will endure. We can, if we choose, blame the new man in the White House for that. Or, we can face up to the real problem and find the real solutions, in ourselves.
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Title Annotation:policy changes within government agencies to help solve economic and environmental problems
Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:843
Previous Article:Teaching with trees.
Next Article:Your economy or your environment?
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