Chocolate and Gold Coins

Friday, May 06, 2005

National Tree Farms

I know what is the purpose of a National Park or a National Wildlife Refuge or a National Wilderness Area or even a National Monument. Those places are all like National Parks: you go there to see land set aside for animals or to commemorate some important battleground or such. But what exactly is the purpose of the National Forest? This article just makes me think again that a National Forest today is little more than a Federal tree farm:

The last 58.5 million acres of untouched national forests, which President Clinton had set aside for protection, were opened to possible logging, mining and other commercial uses by the Bush administration on Thursday.

New rules from the U.S. Forest Service cover some of the most pristine federal land in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

National Forest would seem to have a dual mission of protecting wildlife and producing lumber. Are those compatible missions? Isn’t that a little like a golf course/missile range? If you try to do two things that are essentially opposite, eventually you focus on one task and forget about the other.

Why does the government need to own this land? One explanation is that the government needs to protect the animals. But in practice, are they doing anything that the tree farmer would not do (or might be persuaded to do for a small fee)? Do the forest rangers go out a gather up all of the animals just before the lumber trucks come? I get a mental image of rangers chasing animals including bears to save them. In my mind, it seems quite exciting. I cannot remember seeing anything like that on television, and I think I would remember something like that.

I am not criticizing the idea of having National Parks. I remember some of the best vacations my wife and I ever had were trips to the Boundary Water Canoe Area, which is a wonderful National Wilderness Area in Northern Minnesota. I think the National Parks and their siblings are just wonderful places to visit.

Would it not be more sensible to take half of the land set aside for a National Forest and make that into a National Park and take the other half and sell it off as commercial land? People could build cabins, or lumber companies could buy this land as tree farms, or whatever. My point is: Federal land should not be used for commercial purposes because private companies can use that land much more effectively. If it is a park, make it a park and leave the loggers out, otherwise sell it off.


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