Writings and observations

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

I recently moderated a forum for City Club of Boise featuring U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. Tidwell grew up in Boise before his family moved to Spokane, where he graduated from high school. He took classes at both the University of Idaho and WSU and received a degree in range science from WSU.

At a time when federal funding is threatened, forest fires are on the increase, forest restoration needs are growing, and timber harvests on federal lands have declined, it is a challenging time to be the head of the Forest Service.

Idaho has a greater share of its land mass in national forests than any other state. 38% of Idaho is part of the national forest system. Of Idaho’s 20.4 million acres of national forest land, an estimated 15 million acres are overgrown and vulnerable to the risk of wildfires. Last summer’s fires burned 1.7 million acres of forest and rangeland. The Forest Service spends 42% of its budget on firefighting and nearly one-third of its employees are firefighters.

Tidwell says that in recent years the annual acreage burned by wildfires has increased dramatically and has burned in excess of 8 million acres six times since 2004 and could reach 12 to 15 million acres in the near future. In addition, 30,000 homes have been destroyed in the last ten years, including 3,000 this year. Fire seasons are also running 60-70 days longer than before, with the days over when snows came in September and ended the fire season. Causes for this dramatic increase include past forest management practices, insect infestations and climate change.

Tidwell says that the Forest Service in now making forest restoration one of its highest priorities. Forest restoration includes hazardous fuels reduction, protection and restoration of critical habitat, including riparian areas and watersheds. In areas where restoration has taken place, oncoming fires drop from the crowns and become more manageable.

As an example of the benefits of fuel reduction, Tidwell said that this year’s Mustang Complex Fire north of Salmon covered 340,000 acres and that the work done on a logging project in the area helped fire fighters keep the fire from engulfing U.S. 93, the primary highway route in that
part of the state.

Tidwell said that he uses Idaho as an example of how things can be done. He cited two major successful restoration efforts in Idaho: Selway-Middle Fork, Weiser- Little Salmon Headwaters. Using these as examples, he tells others around the country that “If we can do it in Idaho, we can do it anywhere.”

He said that the Forest Service is also working to increase timber cuts and expects an increase of 20% in the next two years. When asked about the long history of law suits by environmental groups attempting to block timber cuts, he said that it is much less of a problem today than
it was in the past. A major reason for this reduction in lawsuits is an increased emphasis on collaborative efforts such as the Clearwater Basin Collaborative. Nationally, the Forest Service is working on bringing together timber industry executive, environmental leaders, and state and
local officials to increase forest restoration and watershed improvements, as well as increasing timber harvests.

With respect to climate change, Tidwell says that we should prepare for more significant effects. One of the most obvious effects is the severity of infestations from mountain pine beetles. They are at the most severe level ever and increasing. The growing length of fire seasons is also an indicator of climate change. And in the future we should expect to see some timber species that are native to Idaho beginning to disappear from the Idaho landscape.

But the next chapter on the work of the Forest Service will likely be written by federal budge appropriators. As the range of options for reducing the deficit are weighed, significant reductions in discretionary spending are likely to come to the forefront and the Forest Service is viewed as a discretionary program. One of the leading conservative think tanks, the Cato Institute, suggests that Congress should eliminate federal funding for the Forest Service and allow the department to charge fair market value for timber cutting, recreational uses and other uses for Forest Service Land. Not something that would prove popular in the western U.S.

These are interesting times for the Forest Service.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not.

Political candidates often dodge the word “progressive.” That same dictionary defines it as “making use of – or interested in – new ideas, encouragement of self-expression, moving forward or onward.” Sounds not only reasonable to me but highly desirable. Especially in a government.

At our house, we’re registered Independents in political fact. Deferring again to Mr. Webster: “not affiliated with a larger controlling unit (read ‘political party’); not looking to others for one’s opinions; showing a desire for freedom.” What’s wrong with that?

But, you know, in today’s “everybody-must-have-a-label” society, I’ve been called “cowardly” for not being a member of either “major” party. I’ve been told I have no political voice in our democracy. I’ve even been called “un-American.”

These three words – moderate, progressive, independent – have either disappeared from most of our nation’s political discourse or have been redefined in some twisted ways to make them seem distasteful and repugnant. Our national camp is, for so many people, defined narrowly as “right,” “left,” “conservative,” or “liberal.” Anything else is not acceptable.

In the words of Col. Henry Potter: “Road Apples!!!”

It’s been my lifelong experience that the most noise, the most distortion, the most divisiveness come from the – wait for it – right and left. The majority of us – the moderates or independents in the middle – the great politically unwashed or unaligned – seem to endure as we make political decisions guiding the country. Doing so surrounded by the extremist clamor that defines two loud minorities. The two major political parties.

Yes, as a nation, we veer a little to one side or the other now and then. That’s a good thing. Because the middle – where most of us live – is wide enough and flexible enough – and smart enough – to accommodate the noisemakers and name callers while staying on course.

Even now, with tough economic conditions, high unemployment and wars, we “keep on keepin’ on.” Swings too far from the center line are largely avoided and those that occur are always – always – corrected sooner or later. May take an election or two. But, despite the rancor and occasional outright nastiness of the labelers, the moderate, progressive, independent center is where the most important decisions are made. The ones that endure.

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There may be all sorts of fallout from the Washington Senate power-share arrangement.

There will be the overtly political, including re-elect races of Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, the two Democrats who crossed over to help Republicans gain control. (Any thoughts of a recall, though, probably are dismissable; Washington has tough recall laws that require either a legal or major ethical violation for a recall, and this kind of power change certainly doesn’t fall into that category.)

Some of the more interesting effects may be on the Republican side, where the party will be more or less ostensibly in control, but not in any absolute way. Presumably to get Tom and Sheldon ob board, they had to give up overall leadership of the chamber to those two, plus half of the committee chairs.

And today’s national Daily Kos report notes, “Republicans and Democrats will each chair one-half of the chamber’s committees, including some that will be co-chaired—although it’s worth noting that some of the most moderate first-term GOPers, Andy Hill and Steve Litzow, will head two of the most important committees, leapfrogging over much-more-senior conservative members. One other consequence that shouldn’t be overlooked: Seeing as how every vote needs to count in order to make the coup work, the Republicans were also forced to accept loose-cannonish (emotionally more so than ideologically) Pam Roach—whom they kicked out of the caucus—back into the fold.”

That point about needing every vote is critical. Let one senator on either side go south on you, and it’s a tough go. That’s one reason coalitions of this sort can be so unstable. – Randy Stapilus

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