Last week’s field hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands in Sacramento demonstrated all that is wrong with public discourse in America. Rather than being a genuine fact-finding, problem-solving venture, it proved to be nothing more than political theater.
Republicans control the subcommittee, and they stacked the witness list with people and groups whose positions reflect their own legislative goals. Only one panelist represented a divergent viewpoint — and the highly partisan audience booed him. Even so, just two of the subcommittee’s 13 Republican members bothered to show for the hearing, and none of the Democratic members attended. Before you think we’re bashing Republicans, let us say that this is par for the course; had Democrats controlled the committee, the proceeding would have erred in the other direction.
The paltry legislative attendance tells us that everyone already knows what’s going to be said. The hearing becomes nothing more than a forum for producing sound bites to pander to those of the same political stripe. Those sound bites will be used to support GOP-proposed bills that will increase logging, mining, grazing and off-road vehicle access.
Congressman Tom McClintock, who orchestrated last week’s three-ring circus, can name call his opponents as “leftist environmental radicals” all he wants, but his party’s proposed legislation is going nowhere without their participation.
In his opening remarks, McClintock quoted U.S. Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot’s advice to public foresters:
“A public official is there to serve the public and not run them.”
“It is more trouble to consult the public than to ignore them, but that is what you are hired for.”
“Get rid of an attitude of personal arrogance or pride of attainment or superior knowledge.”
Hmm. Seems to us that last week’s field hearing flew in the face of that advice.
Meanwhile, last week in Washington, D.C., the House Natural Resources Committee considered two competing alternatives to reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. (The Secure Rural Schools legislation provides funds for county schools and road departments to make up for the dramatic decline of timber receipts in forest counties.) The Obama administration has proposed a five-year extension of the act. The proposed National Forest County Revenue, Schools and Jobs Act of 2011 and the Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011 include provisions for granting millions of acres of public lands to states, as well as increasing timber harvests and mining on currently protected lands.
This is serious business. Plumas County stands to lose $5 million for our roads and schools should the act, or an alternative, not be authorized. But which option is best? That’s an important question and it deserves meaningful discussion. The thought of transferring millions of acres of public land to the state of California should strike fear into the hearts of many. Some parties say the proposed new bills would actually further restrict public recreational access, already a huge topic in the wake of the travel management plan.
The future of our forests, economy and communities is too important to be relegated to a political sideshow in Sacramento. If we refuse even to listen to those with different perspectives, we will never craft a workable solution to our forest management challenges.