Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Road to Nowhere

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public input on the latest roadless plan for Colorado, according to today's Durango Herald. But why bother?

This dispute will be settled, if it's ever settled, the way every other policy clash is resolved in America -- by a federal judge or panel of judges making policy from the bench (in this case, by assuming the role of public land managers). The "public process" isn't much of a factor in a country that functions as a judicial oligarchy, and anyway, it's a game that's rigged in favor of narrow-interest extremists, since the general public doesn't have a small army of professional activists and lawyers working "the process" for it.

This controversy has now been raging for almost eights years, since Bill Clinton, in one of his last acts as president, attempted to use the so-called Roadless rule to create de-facto wilderness on a third (or roughly 60 million acres) of national forest, while cutting Congress out of the process. The rule resulted in a dizzying array of sometimes-contradictory court decisions -- at least six or seven, when I stopped counting -- that have only deepened the paralysis gripping federal land agencies. This at a time when a forest health crisis requires more access to these disease- and fire-prone forests, not less.

So now we embark on another round of pointless public meetings, in response to a Bush administration roadless compromise that was tossed out by one federal judge, who restored the Clinton roadless plan of nearly eight years ago, which was itself overtuned by another federal judge. Confused? Join the crowd. Meanwhile, as judges and bureaucrats and extremist groups fight and fiddle, beetle blight and wildfires devour ever greater swaths of the West.

At this rate, roadless advocates need not worry about the great unwashed running roughshod through the "last great places," because many of those great places are being methodically destroyed, with the tacit okay of people who claim to love them. Perhaps future historians will see tragic irony in the fact that all this was done by folks claiming to have the forest's best interest in mind.

Go out and attend the public meetings if you choose to. Just don't imagine that your opinion really counts for much.

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