July 26, 2001 11:00 pm
John Howard, Union County Commissioner ().
John Howard, Union County Commissioner ().

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A Union County commissioner hopes to persuade President Bush to convene a committee to review the laws affecting public lands nationwide.

Commissioner John Howard recently persuaded the National Association of Counties to approve a resolution asking the president to create a national public land law review commission to study public land use policies and how they affect local communities. After the study ends, the commission would make a recommendation to Congress.

Howard has also asked the western governors to consider a similar resolution. The governors will meet Aug. 13 in Coeur dAlene, Idaho.

Id like to see a comprehensive review of the environmental laws, to see how they are working, Howard said.

The concept of a public lands law review came in a paper written by former Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas, who was a biologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station in La Grande. Thomas is now a professor with the School of Forestry at the University of Montana.

In a paper written for Resources for the Future and published in Evergreen Magazine, Thomas suggested that a commission be appointed to study laws governing public lands. He suggested in the copyrighted story that the commission be made up of real experts of proven competence with no particular ax to grind.

Concerns have been expressed locally about the ability of private landowners and the managers of public lands to accomplish needed restoration projects and to provide logs for Northeast Oregon mills. Private landowners, as well as state and county officials, have said the detailed steps required by federal agencies, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, have affected forest management.

During a talk more than a year ago in La Grande, Thomas said politics has played a large role in exacerbating the problems faced by the Forest Service.

Laws have made (forest) management expensive, unwieldy or unlikely to occur at all, he said at that time.

Congress passed environmental laws at various times with no examination of what they would do. A succession of federal laws has created contradictions, overlaps and conflicts with other federal agencies, he said.

Howard said that for a public lands review to be effective, we need political support.

Howards resolution, approved by the National Association of Counties, varies somewhat from Thomass proposal. In addition to experts, the resolution calls for representatives from the states, tribes and counties.

In his reasoning supporting the creation of a public land committee, Howard echoed Thomass concerns in the resolution: Management activities are increasingly expensive, uncertain, unpredictable, contentious, unwieldy and unlikely to occur at all.

Howard said he does not know how the western governors will respond to his proposal, which he considers to be a long-range plan.