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Public forests not for private enrichment

Monday, July 26, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mike Quigley
Letter to the Editor

It is hard to think of a worse environmental policy decision than the Bush administration's move to loosen restrictions on road building in roadless areas of our national forests. Most people probably don't know that taxpayers actually pay for much of the road building and maintenance.

Logging companies in turn use those subsidized roads to remove the publicly owned timber sold to them at below-market rates by the federal government. According to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, the federal timber program lost more than $2.5 billion between 1992 and 1998. There is also a $10 billion road maintenance backlog in the national forests, which new roads would only worsen. Despite this backlog, President Bush's 2005 budget slashes the Forest Service's deferred road maintenance budget by 68 percent.

The commissioners of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County face a similar conflict between public and private use.

Over the years, hundreds of private and governmental entities have requested exclusive use of this publicly held land. Unlike the Bush administration, however, I am not willing to violate the mission of the Forest Preserve District to enrich a few at the expense of the many. That is why I have proposed updating the district's land use policy to ensure that all public and private requests to use our forest preserve land are consistent with the statutory mission of the Forest Preserve District to preserve its holdings ''in their natural state and condition, for the purpose of the education, pleasure, and recreation of the public.''

Commissioners in decades past demonstrated that they would not waver from this central goal; in one instance, they even refused to allow the federal War Department to use forest preserve land for military purposes. My fellow commissioners and I are proud to continue this tradition of responsible local stewardship.

In contrast, the Bush administration has no problem allowing national forests -- a treasure that belongs to all Americans -- to be damaged for the benefit of well-connected lumber companies. Cook County residents should know that my colleagues and I are working hard to ensure that our local lands will not be so egregiously misused.

Mike Quigley,

Cook County commissioner



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