Charter forests: privatizing the public domain
The Business Journal of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
>From the April 12, 2002 print edition
The Bush administration proposes establishing "charter
transferring authority of some national forests from the U.S. Forest
to local "trusts" consisting largely of "user
groups." This, according to
Mark Rey, would reduce management costs. Rey, a former timber industry
lobbyist, is undersecretary of agriculture in charge of the national
This Charter Forest Plan to "decentralize" management harks
back to the
Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, an organized attempt by industry and
governments to wrest control of public lands from the federal
Public domain, most of it in the West, makes up a third of the country
includes national parks, national forests and wilderness areas.
rebel James Watt became Reagan's secretary of the interior and later a
to Gale Norton, the present interior secretary.
The Sagebrush Rebellion failed to establish a legal claim that public
belongs to the states, but from it grew the "Wise Use
established regional groups opposed to "big government" and
Now, Wise Use is yielding to a "free-market environmentalism"
think tank-based libertarian economists. Pure market demand, they argue,
should determine how public lands are used.
Again, local authority is a key piece of the strategy to transfer
the people's lands from the larger government to industrial interests.
If industries gain management rights over the nation's forests,
lawyers and public relations firms will inflate ownership aspects and
massage the "sanctity of private property" principle to
A free-marketer and charter forest advocate from the Foundation for
on Economics & the Environment (FREE) minced no words:
Trusts would be charged to manage for the land's highest values."
value here refers to cash value.
Regarding the suggestion that only a national forest or two will become
charter forests, there is also a lesson. Recreation Fee Demonstration
Demo) requires citizens to pay merely to park and hike on
federal land. Fee Demo began as a temporary demonstration, then was
Now, it is a permanent part of the Bush administration's budget.
Situations that an informed public would not tolerate if introduced
are successful if advanced stepwise.
Likewise, the Charter Forest Plan, while beginning with a forest or two,
would surely grow in time to cover the national forest system. We are
the frog that will remain in a pan of water if the temperature is raised
slowly, and thus we get cooked.
NATURE AS A COMMODITY
The Charter Forest Plan transforms nature into commodity. The people's
forests would become mere production units. Producing what? Why,
yields the most money -- whether trees, minerals, game, Jeep trails or
After generations of supporting these forests with federal taxes,
would quickly become mere customers seeing price tags on every use.
With its frank invitation for "the creative efforts of
entrepreneurs," the Charter Forest Plan sets the stage for a
control of the people's forests from the larger representative
Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology at the University of
President of the
Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN).
PO Box 677
Sandstone, MN 55072
Another posted address and other contact information for SWAN:
2052 Carroll Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Note re: Bill Willers. He authored this 'Opinion' that may be viewed at
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), recall, is an immense, global
that employs standards to "certify" that woodlots are being
"sustainably", this allowing for the "certification"
of lumber, which then
commands a higher price. While this is OK for private lands, it is most
emphatically NOT OK for public lands, as this simply reinforces their
as fiber mills rather than as strongholds for nature. However, FSC in
U.S. has targeted public lands and has already certified hundreds of
miles of county and state forest.
About a year ago, we at SWAN stated flatly that the national forests are
ultimate goal of FSC, and for that we were soundly criticized. But in
November, it was reported by Daniel Hall of the Biodiversity Program of
American Lands Alliance (ALA) that "discussions are continuing
FSC-US regarding whether certification should be conducted on federal
forestlands." [ALA has a policy against certification by anyone on
lands-county, state, or federal.] The feelers are out, and it seems just
matter of time before they begin moving in on the federal lands.
I'm sorry to report that some progressive magazines (e.g., Mother Jones)
carrying ads for FSC. This is terrible. If the FSC, with its public
campaigning, is able to convince the country that its
"harvesting" in federal
lands is gentle, sustainable, nature-friendly, etc., etc... it will be a
blow to the effort to begin restoration of wildlands.
- Bill Willers
Another place for "interesting reading" is:
"The mission of the Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) is
production of a scientifically-guided proposal for a biodiversity
system across the Midwest North Woods (i.e., northern Minnesota,
and Michigan). To this end, SWAN has provided a research grant to the
Information and Computer Graphics Facility located at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison to carry out the scientific analysis necessary.
You will see that the before-and-after maps (of vegetation cover in the
Midwest North Woods) referred to in SWAN's March, 1997, Occasional Paper
been removed from the web page. The public agencies, including the
States Forest Service, that assembled the underlying data have not
an assessment or description of the accuracy or reliability of these
are assured that this is a temporary situation and that the maps will be
available on their server within a couple of weeks."
There seems to be a bit of 'language reengineering' going on here, but
come to your own conclusion:
Dear Mr. Diehl:
Given the human population and the per capita level of consumption,
growth is no longer "smart". "Smart Growth" is a
rhetorical device to make
the status quo acceptable. Moreover, "excessive" is a relative
term, and, as
interpreted by those intent upon continued development and expansion in
interest of their "sound economy", it will mean no change on
Really, Mr. Diehl, there is nothing to be pleased about.
Biology Dept., University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
800 Algoma Blvd.
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, U.S.A. 54901