A few facts about the nation’s national forests:

  • They comprise 8.5% of all land in the United States.
  • Although the National Parks Service manages them, they are not national parks. Commercial use of national forests is permitted and in many cases, encouraged.
  • Logging is permitted in many national forests such as Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
  • Much of this land is also open to farming, and mining.

The country’s national forest land, in other words, is not what many people might think it to be. The management of these lands often focuses on harvesting natural resources, while preserving the natural ecosystem, and finding the right balance between the two. In fact, the National Forest Service was established with a “multiple use mandate.”

That little primer should help explain CEA’s interest in a series of public hearings being held this month and next to discuss new rules for managing 155 forests and 20 grasslands in the country’s national forest system. Read much of the recent news coverage of these hearings, and you’ll discover it has been overwhelmingly one-sided, focusing on the very important issue of conservation, but not addressing the equally important matter of making the most of the natural resources on these lands, and doing so in a responsible manner so that people can continue to enjoy these lands and wildlife may continue to thrive.

We suspect the very one-sided nature of the coverage of the debate has a lot to do with a misunderstanding of the national forests and their intended use.

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service is reviewing a proposal to drill an exploratory well in the Shoshone National forest in Wyoming.  CEA supports the thorough review of any proposed drilling projects on these national forest lands, but not the categorical rejection of any and all responsible drilling, in Wyoming, or elsewhere. We don’t want proposed projects like this to be rejected before their environmental and economic impact are even examined.

After all, we’re talking about close to 10% of the country’s land. It stands to reason that some of these lands have valuable natural resources. Placing them off limits without even reviewing proposed projects could put the future development of a range of renewable and non-renewable energy sources at risk. It is important that our national forests be managed in a way that respects the multiple-use mandate established by Congress.