Charter forests: privatizing the public domain

Bill Willers 
The Business Journal of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
>From the April 12, 2002 print edition

The Bush administration proposes establishing "charter forests" by
transferring authority of some national forests from the U.S. Forest Service
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 forests.

This Charter Forest Plan to "decentralize" management harks back to the
Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, an organized attempt by industry and local
governments to wrest control of public lands from the federal government.
Public domain, most of it in the West, makes up a third of the country and
includes national parks, national forests and wilderness areas. Sagebrush
rebel James Watt became Reagan's secretary of the interior and later a mentor
to Gale Norton, the present interior secretary.

The Sagebrush Rebellion failed to establish a legal claim that public domain
belongs to the states, but from it grew the "Wise Use Movement" that
established regional groups opposed to "big government" and "environmental


Now, Wise Use is yielding to a "free-market environmentalism" formulated by
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 control of
the people's lands from the larger government to industrial interests.

If industries gain management rights over the nation's forests, corporate
lawyers and public relations firms will inflate ownership aspects and then
massage the "sanctity of private property" principle to industrial advantage.

A free-marketer and charter forest advocate from the Foundation for Research
on Economics & the Environment (FREE) minced no words: "National Forest
Trusts would be charged to manage for the land's highest values." Highest
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 (Fee
Demo) requires citizens to pay merely to park and hike on taxpayer-supported
federal land. Fee Demo began as a temporary demonstration, then was extended.
Now, it is a permanent part of the Bush administration's budget.

Situations that an informed public would not tolerate if introduced suddenly
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 like
the frog that will remain in a pan of water if the temperature is raised but
slowly, and thus we get cooked.


The Charter Forest Plan transforms nature into commodity. The people's
forests would become mere production units. Producing what? Why, whatever
yields the most money -- whether trees, minerals, game, Jeep trails or
family-fun operations.

After generations of supporting these forests with federal taxes, citizens
would quickly become mere customers seeing price tags on every use.

With its frank invitation for "the creative efforts of environmental
entrepreneurs," the Charter Forest Plan sets the stage for a transfer of
control of the people's forests from the larger representative government to
private industry.

Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology at the University of
Wisconsin-Oshkosh and
President of the
Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN).
PO Box 677
Sandstone, MN  55072
Phone: 320-245-6800
Fax: 320-245-6807

Another posted address and other contact information for SWAN:
2052 Carroll Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Ph: 651-646-6277
FAX: 651-647-4400

Note re: Bill Willers. He authored this 'Opinion' that may be viewed at :

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), recall, is an immense, global network
that employs standards to "certify" that woodlots are being managed
"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 status
as fiber mills rather than as strongholds for nature. However, FSC in the
U.S. has targeted public lands and has already certified hundreds of square
miles of county and state forest.

About a year ago, we at SWAN stated flatly that the national forests are an
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 within the
FSC-US regarding whether certification should be conducted on federal
forestlands." [ALA has a policy against certification by anyone on any public
lands-county, state, or federal.] The feelers are out, and it seems just a
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) are
carrying ads for FSC. This is terrible. If the FSC, with its public relations
campaigning, is able to convince the country that its "harvesting" in federal
lands is gentle, sustainable, nature-friendly, etc., etc... it will be a huge
blow to the effort to begin restoration of wildlands.

- Bill Willers
President, SWAN

Another place for "interesting reading" is:

From: comes this:

"The mission of the Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) is the
production of a scientifically-guided proposal for a biodiversity reserve
system across the Midwest North Woods (i.e., northern Minnesota, Wisconsin,
and Michigan). To this end, SWAN has provided a research grant to the Land
Information and Computer Graphics Facility located at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison to carry out the scientific analysis necessary. ...NOTICE:
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 have
been removed from the web page. The public agencies, including the United
States Forest Service, that assembled the underlying data have not completed
an assessment or description of the accuracy or reliability of these data. We
are assured that this is a temporary situation and that the maps will be made
available on their server within a couple of weeks."

From: :
There seems to be a bit of 'language reengineering' going on here, but please
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 the
interest of their "sound economy", it will mean no change on the ground.

Really, Mr. Diehl, there is nothing to be pleased about.
Bill Willers
Biology Dept., University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
800 Algoma Blvd.
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, U.S.A. 54901
Phone: (920)424-3074
Fax: (920)424-1101

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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