Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why should Forest Service's new numbers be believed?

Americans have ample reason to regard claims coming out of the Bush White House with suspicion.

The president and his handlers can blame themselves for growing public doubts about the authenticity of claims.

The record for deceit is appalling. Medicare's chief analyst was forced to understate costs so Congress would be misled into approving them. The president asked Congress to approve an attack on Iraq because of doomsday weapons that were never found. Two years after Bush's May 1, 2003, "Mission Accomplished" speech on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, the war continues. White House "scientists" pooh-pooh global warming, despite genuine proof to the contrary. And on and on.

The newest suspect claim is the U.S. Forest Service's sharply reduced assessment of the economic value of recreation on public lands to the nation's economy.

The new estimate by the Forest Service is $11 billion annually—just a tenth of the $111 billion estimated by the Clinton administration.

Such a drastic cut understandably drew immediate doubts from the Wilderness Society, whose director, Michael Francis, said, "They (the White House) will cook the books for whatever they want."

The recreation industry suspects that by slashing the estimated worth of recreation revenues on public lands, the Bush administration will open the door to expansion of mining, logging and who knows what else on public lands that are now protected for recreation.

Indicators are that recreation is expanding, not shrinking, on public lands.

In Idaho, for example, highways are jammed with RVs, rivers are teeming with rafters and kayakers, recreation outfitters are thriving, trailheads are choked with cars. At Adams Gulch trailhead north of Ketchum, on one day last week a counter registered 180 vehicles.

And this new trend: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered that wildlife and nature viewing last year exceeded hunting and fishing as a recreation activity. Bird watchers alone spend nearly $40 billion per year on equipment and travel, according to Watchable Wildlife.

President Bush makes no secret of wanting to help industries that are generous donors to his political campaigns.

A major step was rescinding President Clinton's policy on roadless areas in public lands. This allows introduction of noise, pollution and destruction into now-serene roadless woodlands.

Now, dismissing recreation as a miniscule economic factor speeds the day when industrial activities can turn what's left of the forests into industrial blight.

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