May 08, 2002 11:00 pm

Two environmentalist groups have one thing in common. Both want to keep humans out of the forests if they get their way. The Hells Canyon Preservation Council of La Grande is doing its darnedest to keep loggers out of the Catherine Creek area by filing lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service.

AT THE SAME TIME, the Wilderness Watch of Missoula, Mont., is challenging a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow long-distance runners to pass through parts of the federally protected Steens Mountain Wilderness Area in Oregon.

In both cases, the environmentalists are putting neither the welfare of the animals nor the habitat first but rather their groups' agendas in a quest to banish all humans from using either the forests for enjoyment or the products that the forests yield. If Wilderness Watch is victorious, a 27-year old organization, the Steens Mountain Running Camp, will be barred from letting the high school-age runners attending the annual camp from enjoying a run through Steens Mountain. Students who attend the high-altitude training camp have to live in rugged conditions including showering outdoors or not showering at all.

WE AGREE WITH the camp's founder, Harland Yriarte, who is quoted as saying, "For a person coming to Steens Mountain Running Camp and not being able to experience what is now labeled wilderness is kind of like going to Arizona and getting only a quarter-mile from the Grand Canyon." In reality, the wilderness area that the runners use provides them with an experience that will help them to better appreciate the outdoors. It is disturbing that a group from Montana is focusing on what goes on in Oregon, rather than devoting their energies on the wanton and rampant growth that has taken place in the Bitterroot Range of Montana.

Once again, environmentalists are working to shut down logging activity, putting a greater importance on preserving and protecting habitat for the Canadian lynx, which has had sightings in Northeast Oregon but so far hasn't been proven to have its habitat in the area. This small cat-like creature might be passing through the region during migratory times, but no dens have been found. The lynx depend on the snowshoe hare as the principal food source and prefers habitat of subalpine fir, lodgepole pine or sometimes a mixed conifer forest.

WE DON'T HAVE a problem with being concerned about the Canadian lynx, but we do have a problem with setting aside timber sales for a migratory animal that lives primarily in Canada. Unless biologists can prove beyond a doubt that the lynx is a permanent resident of our area, then we should not be so quick to shut down timber sales that are needed for the health of the forest and to reduce potential fire problems.

And since a tradition has been carried on for 27 years, educating the Steens teens on how to be careful and respectful while running through the wilderness would go a long way toward protecting and showing respect for the land. Sometimes environmentalists overstep their boundaries. Who is there to police them?