Saving forest communities is a bipartisan job: Don't blame George W. Bush for the problem. A response to Jeff Nachtigal's "They're Lumberjacks and They're Not OK."

By Salon Staff

Published August 5, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

When I read the July 28 Salon article "They're Lumberjacks and They're Not OK," I felt like I was in a parallel universe. I invested much time and care in providing information for this article because the complexities and politics surrounding federal forest issues are seldom revealed in the media; still, I fear I failed to clearly depict the real situation. Here is one more try.

You correctly describe the economic crisis that surrounds forest communities like mine -- high in poverty and full of the working poor. Yet that impoverishment did not start with the Bush administration and it won't end with the Bush administration, but it has a chance to be greatly improved.

Similarly, the forest surrounding my community is on fire today, people are being evacuated, and watersheds and old growth are once again jeopardized. Yet the need to restore forest health did not start with the Bush administration and it will not end with the Bush administration, but restoration has a chance for the first time in many years.

I want to be clear that the issues most important to us folks on the ground are sustaining our at-risk communities and restoring our at-risk forests ... regardless of who's in office. And this will take a strong and sincere commitment from whoever is in office. I "seethe," as mentioned in your article, because of the challenges that must be overcome to get there: The system for managing our nation's forests was built in a time when lumber production was the No. 1 priority, and now that we have embraced restoration and ecosystem management, this system is archaic, broken and inappropriate. Changing a whole system, both institutionally and ecologically, is long, backbreaking, tedious, and not glamorous work.

Your article mentions tools and initiatives that show promise: The Healthy Forests Restoration Act and the Economic Action Programs. Although you go on to say that "EAP grants and HFRA projects are out of the reach of [my] community," the more accurate portrayal is that we have yet to realize their full potential. We need to give HFRA a chance to work and we need to provide the support necessary to ensure its success, such as making sure that contracting and procurement rules and regulations are in place so that communities may access the work. The opportunity to use the new stewardship contracting authorities, passed under the leadership of the Bush administration, could make all the difference.

Further, my organization has been able to access EAP grants -- that is why we support the program. Our concern is that if the program is eliminated that those opportunities will be lost for us and other public-land communities. We work well with the Forest Service and want the agency to have the capacity to work with communities like mine more frequently.

HFRA was passed because the administration worked with both parties to craft a politically viable piece of legislation. We will not have enduring forests in this nation, or strong forest communities, until we start working together to create practical solutions to complex problems. We all bear the responsibility for that, not just the Bush administration, not just the congressional budget, not just the Forest Service, not just the environmental community, not just the forest industries, not just local people ... but all of us.

My intention in submitting this letter is to address what I saw as a more systemic bias woven throughout the article. The core belief of my organization, and of the many communities with whom I work, is that people need to focus on the common ground they share and not continually feed the political polarization that has driven forest management in the last 20 years. While it is true that forest communities often view new national policies with tepid enthusiasm and are concerned about losing funds from EAP, our goal is find solutions by working together -- including the current administration. We are not interested in contributing to the further polarization of forest-management issues. We are interested in furthering understanding and finding shared values so we can manage our national forests in a way that is environmentally sound and economically equitable.

In the parallel universe where I live, forest-health issues and local poverty issues know no political party. They do know groups of dedicated citizens and public servants trying to put the pieces back together again. I'd like to encourage the media to become part of that community.

-- Lynn Jungwirth

Salon Staff

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