Here’s a bargain. Give me 190 million acres of your national forest, and I’ll give it to industrial giants who can make a killing off it.
Did you say no? You may have to say it louder.
This year, Western lawmakers have pushed through Congress a plan, devised by their timber, oil and gas giant patrons, to divvy up your federal lands via state-by-state distribution and sale.
The industry groups pushing the agenda have been coveting these public lands for decades. Their earlier attempts at land grab, however, met with outraged bipartisan resistance.
Conservatives, liberals, centrists and nobodies, hunters, anglers, equestrians, Scout troops, retirees, tree-huggers, entire churches—Americans everywhere love these reserves of our original homeland, doorway to fishing holes, trails and backcountry expanses, whip-poor-wills, owls and midnight stars.
But never underestimate the power of big money to buy up a state senate here, federal legislators there, spawn endless dupe-the-people propaganda—and getter done.
In March, the Senate voted 51 to 49 in favor of a non-binding budget-resolution amendment aimed at parceling out national forests to individual states, who could then manage, lease or auction them off as expedient.
A week earlier, the House approved a similar resolution, explaining that “the federal estate is far too large,” and needs to be “reduced” via numerous industrial proposals for eliminating this national bane of wildlife habitat and forested watersheds.
If it sounds to you like a swap engineered behind the closed doors of the favor-trading club, ALEC, you’d be right.
The private American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by BP, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and various multinational interests, crafted the forest-removal model legislation (posted on its website) for ALEC’s lawmaker members to promote.
This “Legislative Exchange” is a win-win—for ALEC members. The politicians get continued campaign backing from the industries. The latter, in exchange, get their long-sought windfall—the “trillions of dollars of abundant resources” reserved within America’s public lands.
Various Western legislatures, meanwhile, have passed or may pass the ALEC-drafted legislation demanding that the nation give up these national forest lands, and paving the way for sales.
Western state citizens, according to surveys, actually favor their nearby federal lands—commons accessible to all and a major draw for tourism.
So in the effort to resemble a “common man” movement itself, the coalition tries to hide its industry-giant self behind a fog of faux-patriotic front groups like “The American Land Council” and Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity.”
These, with help from industry-funded think tanks, produce brain-sinking swamps of PR bloatware, greenwashing and officious jargon promoting the loss of U.S. National Forest as expedient for the “environment,” “jobs” and “freedom.”
But let’s exit the ALEC meeting-hall hot air, aim for the forested hills, fan some oxygen to the brain and get this straight.
Our lawmakers don’t own the national forest. It isn’t theirs to hand out as political campaign favors.
This last refuge of contiguous forest tracts, clean headwaters, brook trout, quiet trails and sanity belongs to our whole nation, including your great-grandkids, just as it belonged to your granny and Uncle Bob.
These famous lands house a living national archive of endangered and rare species, world-famous scenery, planet-cooling woods, recreational backcountry that spurs local economies, and one vast goldmine vault of national watershed protection.
As Western states experience historic droughts, any attempt to govern with wisdom would indicate this as the time to guard our nation’s forest watersheds, not squander and pulverize that inheritance into dust.
In the East, national forests are vital for housing and protecting the rural and urban water supplies that flow downstream.
The Monongahela and George Washington forest districts are key to protecting the Chesapeake Bay’s health and over 3,000 species of plants and animals in its watershed, as suburban sprawl claims 70 to 100 acres of the region’s forest cover daily.
But along with these practical values, our national forests should be retained as a refuge for the spirit, “for us all to enjoy, not just the rich,” argues evangelical minister Mitch Hescox, who takes his grandson to these forests “to know the wonder of God's creation—before it’s too late.”
Frederick Law Olmsted, a 19th century father of our commons, likewise said that such settings offer crowds of “tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork.”
And they improved moral intelligence, he added, preventing that “softening of the brain,” “moroseness,” “irascibility” and loss of “moral forces” that deranged even highly stationed people cooped-up indoors, maddened by self-interest.