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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Sensible Approach In Hard Economic Times

An editorial in the Seattle Times (A Policy Revival for Roadless Forests) last Friday points out the economic importance of halting plans for roadless areas. Finally, mainstream America is beginning to understand that we cannot continue the policies that drove our economy into the ground in the first place.

Yes, it was a lending crisis that triggered the current recession, but it was bad investment choices that deepened it, including how the government chooses to invest. Investing in declining industries that are declining because they just won’t adapt to changing demand (as the American auto makers) or supply (as the timber industry).

Too often industries put blinders on without looking at the true costs of a particular way of business. Roadless forests hold far greater value than extracting natural resources

The [new] rules provided for maintaining existing uses, with local forest managers able to make decisions about selective logging, grazing, fishing and hunting.

All of these uses add value to local, rural economies, whose residents nearly always have lower incomes and fewer opportunities available to them. Roadless areas, as Governor Gregoire noted in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack noted, have additional values that affect others:

"We have 2 million acres of pristine roadless forests that provide vital clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, carbon sequestration, and outstanding recreational opportunities for Washingtonians to enjoy our great outdoors."

In these economic hard times, it’s time to look at the true costs of doing business. The above indicates the opportunity costs of building roads in forests, decreasing their value. In addition, when costs are passed on to the public to benefit only a few, it diminishes government’s ability to invest in emerging sectors, and truly benefit the taxpayer.

Road building in national forests comes with a nasty double-hit on the treasury. The federal government subsidizes road construction for timber companies. Erosion of poorly maintained or abandoned logging roads destroy salmon habitat and restoration projects. Taxpayers pay twice.

The “Chicago school” of economists who led us into the current economic debacle are finally losing their unwarranted credibility. It appears the Times, at least in this editorial, finally understands that economic standards must change. We can no longer look at the earth (and most of humanity) as an irrelevant externality. Here’s hoping the federal government gets it too.

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