Small Communities' Public Lands

Excerpt from Inside Out:

In rural Oregon, here in Lake County, the debates over public lands and small towns are made of flesh and blood, not concept and theory. The federal government owns 78 percent of Lake County, so it's a very interesting situation, considering that everyone in town has friends who work for the Forest Service and the BLM. People sitting in church pews, the high school auditorium, or a booth at the Burger Queen, they know each other and they know federal employees are simply carrying out policies handed down from a higher office, far beyond the state border. Land management is trapped between the Endangered Species Act of yesteryear and fear of another lawsuit being slapped on the Forest Service tomorrow.

"We're tying to manage the forest (public lands) for just one species (Northern Spotted Owl). We are looking past what we need to do to protect these lands." Then, with the tone of a disapproving father, he adds: "We're smarter than that." Without knowing it, Brad (Lake County Commissioner Brad Winters) is voicing what so many struggle to articulate. The Endangered Species Act had its place, and ESA was a critical turning point, absolutely. But the world has changed dramatically since 1973, and so must our management of forests and deserts.

Which is why I advocate a new path for conservation for this century. Let's put endangered species litigation and emergency-room thinking in the past by recognizing that people are a key component of natural resources and community is part of natural habitat. By creating a bigger picture of environmental protection, we rewrite divisive rules together. Ultimately, it's not the hearts and minds of the ecosystem we need to win over, it's our own.