A small victory for conservation

The administration’s attempt to open millions of acres of protected forests to development has failed – for now.

In 2001, the federal “Roadless Rule” was enacted, protecting 58.5 million acres of national forests, nearly one third of all such lands from logging, road building and mining. This included 62,000 acres in Superior National Forest in Minnesota. Last fall, the Bush administration set its sights on this protection.

It proposed that each state’s governor should be allowed to petition to keep the land protected. Otherwise, the land would become open to anyone who chose to exploit them. This was done without any regard for or research into what the overall effect would be on the environment or endangered species in affected areas. Fortunately, this mandate was stopped temporarily by the courts.

Across political divisions, a majority of Americans believe that this land should be protected, but national public opinion may play a minor role. The new guidelines will turn the battle over to the states, creating several fronts in the fight for conservation. Smaller states such as Wyoming would be more prone to succumb to the political muscle of large logging companies, especially when jobs are on the line. Some advocate the rights of each state to determine the fate of their respective forests, but this can spell disastrous effects when these actions are aggregated. Protecting the forests on a national level is a commitment our nation should make.

The current fight will likely be tied up in the courts for many years to come. Some even speculate that this issue won’t be resolved until after the Bush administration leaves. Some speculate that the matter ultimately will rise to the Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome, there are important lessons to be gleaned from this struggle.

We must understand that conservation challenges will be a recurring theme in our nation’s political discourse. As development sprawls, companies will rigorously seek the natural resources to satiate this demand. Companies will try to find creative ways to ease the rules currently in place, such as fighting for “minor” exceptions or by using narrow theoretical arguments to justify their actions. Still we must keep the higher priority of conservation in mind.