A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

The probability of successful recovery for many keystone endangered species would not be "high." Just as alarming, forests on the east side of the Cascade Mountains (outside spotted owl and marbled murrelet habitat), which have suffered from the same overcutting problems as the west side forests, would experience accelerated logging to make up for some of the shortfall from the west side.

The Clinton administration then played hardball with environmental leaders to get them to support this plan. Hardball included threats to support legislation that would enact the plan and shield it and other timber sales in the Northwest from judicial review. Since this would throw environmentalists out of court and off the playing field, many of them compromised. Others rebelled.67 Interestingly, the timber industry seemed even more disappointed with Option Nine than the environmentalists. Over time, political allies of the industry may succeed in further weakening environmental protection laws and the environmentalists' bargaining position. Only time will tell. Despite some encouraging signs of pending reform, such as ecosystem management and the appointment of a wildlife biologist as chief, it is not yet clear whether the agency over the long term will take the path of reform or the path of retrenchment.


Conclusion

On the centennial anniversary of the national forests ( 1991), the Forest Service was intensively reevaluating itself and its mission, trying painfully to contend with internal revolt, demands for change from progressive sectors of the forestry profession, pressure from lumbermen who warned of imminent economic collapse in the industry without accelerated harvesting on the national forests, and increasingly radical grass-roots environmental opposition to its management activities (Earth First! road blockades, tree- sitting, and other forms of civil disobedience). Congress, too, had a half dozen bills pending in 1991 designed to restructure national forest policy and delimit Forest Service management discretion.68 Unlike other periods of crisis, however, the two factors that previously sustained intensive management solutions to national forest conflicts -- perceptions of abundance and public faith in technologically enhanced forest production -- had all but disappeared. Whether or not a false optimism promoting maximum and harmonious development of all resources can again overcome conflicts seems doubtful.

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