Is land public or federal?

April 11, 2012 02:05 pm

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest belongs to all of us

Is it public land or is it federal land? Most of us have grown up being told that it was public land and we benefitted from it.

There were logging and mill jobs; there were trail crews maintaining the trails for the hikers; and there were stumpage fees going to the county to support our schools.

Logging on public land has all but ceased. There are no trail crews and the stumpage fees are gone, impacting country school funding.

The only thing left is a small amount of forest maintenance such as firefighting, some thinning and replanting of burned lands and some road maintenance.

Other than that, there is little or no forest maintenance taking place. 

When Dale Bosworth, chief of the USFS appointed by President Bush, gave his departing speech to Congress, he stated there were four problems inhibiting good forest management with the most critical being unrestricted travel.

He was probably correct in regard to unrestricted off-road travel, but “on-road” travel does not impact forest management but allows the public to enter those forests by vehicle if not
designated as wilderness.

Bosworth then went on to make an edict for all forests to initiate a travel management plan reducing the amount of roads. This was to provide good forest management to forests not being managed then and now.

Green gates began to immediately appear in some forests, excluding the public from vehicle entry. This edict also excluded electric wheelchairs, though not mandated as a specific. 

When this was announced, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest began a plan. They first announced it in Baker City. At that meeting, one of the officials of the USFS made the statement that they owned the forest.

At a later date, this was taken to task by then-Union County Commissioner Colleen McLeod. The USFS, as a result, backed off and, from that time, used the term “stewards of the forest.”

Strangely enough, they also stated what could only have been a preconceived number of miles of road they planned to close including the green dot roads. At that meeting, one official also stated that once they had the public educated, we would see it the right way.

When the USFS came to La Grande for a meeting, they declared it was not a public forum or a question/answer meeting.

They stated that they wanted input but not at that time.

There was an assortment of tables for various areas and the public could consult those at the table for more information. 

In other words, the meeting was basically “we are here to tell you what we are going to do and if you have questions, go to the tables.” The meeting lasted 18 minutes. 

The government has been slowly increasing the amount of wilderness areas. This is becoming increasingly more and more difficult as the users are beginning to get fed up with additional restrictions. By creating mini wilderness areas, they incrementally decrease the usable forest to the public under the heading of managing forests when in fact they are
managing the public.

Managing the public and restricting them from using the forests in their customary way is not managing the forest, but incrementally turning the forest into a land of no use.

The Wallowa-Whitman forest manager recently stated that they are doing this for the benefit of wildlife and to make the playing field level for the hikers and those using vehicles (my paraphrase).

No mention was made concerning leveling the playing field for senior citizens or the handicapped.

All this is nonsense as those not using vehicles can go anywhere they desire and only the vehicle users, senior citizens and handicapped are bring restricted. 

Crowding people into smaller areas near fewer roads will increase animal stress and hunter congestion. If the agencies are inclined to reduce animal stress, they should cease protecting the carnivorous predators. 

If the government is not the owner of the public lands, it is surely making an effort to become so.

It should be realized that the foresters in the area are not to blame. They are merely the tools being used by upper bureaucracy to attain the desired control of public lands. 

Now is the time to put an end to this power grab. We should stand up and holler to regain control of our public lands.


Gene Erwin is a resident of La Grande.