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It was irresponsible of the U.S. House of Representatives to approve
legislation to give the federal government three billion dollars more each
year to put more land under government control when the Los Alamos fire
still was raging out of control and damage had not been assessed.

Any reasonable American would have said, “Hold on a minute! Let’s use
this money to reclaim the 47,000 acres worth of forests that were destroyed,
repair the millions of dollars in damage to our nuclear laboratory and pay
off the more than 200 homeowners who lost everything they owned in that
fire. Before we decide to allow the government to buy up more private
property, we’d better examine its record of property management.”

Each year in the United States sawmills shut down because government
restricts the amount of timber that can be harvested. Loggers go on
welfare, the cost of lumber goes up and fewer and fewer families can own
their own homes. Meanwhile, Bruce Babitt, the unrepentant Secretary of the
Interior, says the government will continue with “controlled burns.” In
other words, we’ll destroy our forests with fire before we let the public
use the wood. This land belongs to the bureaucrats. Look but don’t touch,
and here’s the bill.

This is not to say that there never is a reason for controlled burns.
However, timber harvests could help thin stands and create natural fire
breaks. Salvage operations would take care of trees that are blown to the
ground and clear away deadwood that starts and spreads forest fires.

Two years ago the Forest Service reported that there was a 30 percent
chance of a large fire in five years in the area around Los Alamos. If the
government had allowed at least some of that timber to be harvested,
everyone would have benefited. New forests would already be growing and
this devastation likely never would have happened.

Presently, the Forest Service reports that it has 39 million acres at
high risk of fire, while at the same time, the administration is trying to
put millions more acres of government land in “roadless” areas which will
make it that much more difficult to control.

While our national parks were created for recreation and preservation,
our system of national forests was created to assure a sustained supply of
timber in a perpetual cycle of cutting and reforestation. Environmental
groups increasingly are pushing the government to lock the public out of
both. As a result, bugs, disease and fires are destroying our national
forests while much of our privately held forests are thriving. This
privately owned land is kept healthy to protect the commercial value of the
timber, which, in turn, protects habitat and benefits the environment.

Meanwhile, much of the land in our national parks is a national disgrace.
The National Park Service has 16,000 permanent structures, 8,000 miles of
roads, 1,500 bridges and tunnels, 5,000 housing units, more than 400 dams
and 200 solid waste operations. Its repair backlog currently is $5 billion.
So why did the House of Representatives pass the Conservation and
Reinvestment Act? Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul and throwing good money
after bad?

Since 1960, our federal land agencies have added 33.6 million acres to
their holdings, which is an area nearly as large as the state of Florida.
Have we ever stopped to ask, “How much federally owned land do we really
need?”

Let’s hope the Senate acts more responsibly and shelves any proposed
action until we can have a full assessment of the state of our national
parks and
our national forests. The federal government already owns over one-third of
the land area in the United States. The question we should be asking,
particularly in light of the Los Alamos debacle, is, “Why don’t we take care
of what we have, before we even consider expanding the amount of land under
federal control?”

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