Tilted Land Ethics

Article excerpt

THE political struggle over developing natural resources for short-term economic gain versus conservation for future generations has a long, lively, and sometimes bitter history. This is particularly true in the American West, where the tradition of rugged individualism is strong but where much of the landscape is managed in trust for the public by federal agencies.

In recent years, legislative compromises have been reached to provide some balance between environmental protection and economic development and also to avoid the manipulation and sometimes intimidation of professional land managers by interest groups. But the weakness of those land-use laws - and, more importantly, a fundamental shift in public values now emerging within federal agencies - is reflected in the recent forced transfer for political reasons of two senior professionals with the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service.

The two are Lorraine Mintzmyer, who was director of the Park Service's Rocky Mountain region before being ordered to Philadelphia starting last week, and John Mumma, former northern regional forester responsible for 13 national forests covering 25 million acres, who resigned rather than transfer back to agency headquarters in Washington. Each has given decades of service and won a long list of awards and promotions.

The two appeared last month before the House subcommittee on civil service, which has responsibility for whistle-blower protection. Mr. Mumma detailed what he called the "undue interference and pressure by political figures in the management of the northern region ... designed to force me to make decisions unwarranted by existing law." Specifically, he was pressured by members of the Montana and Idaho congressional delegations to cut more timber than he felt should be allowed under federal laws.

"I find it strange that I am reassigned from the Forest Service's northern region for meeting approximately 85 percent of my timber target, when the national average for the entire Forest Service is closer to 65 percent in 1991," Mumma told the subcommittee.

Ms. Mintzmyer's case involves her role as head of a multi-agency federal effort over the past several years to plan for the future of Yellowstone National Park and the ecosystem that surrounds it. …