18. Charter Forest Proposal Threatens Access to Public Lands

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EARTH FIRST! Eostar 2002
Title: “Privatization’s Trojan Horse”
Edited by: Scott Silver

Title: “Park Wars”
Author: Jon Margolis

Faculty Evaluator: Eric McGuckin Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Dana Balicki, Lisa Badenfort

Corporate Media Partial Coverage: Ventura County Star, 5/15/02, “Charter Forests Spell Trouble.”
Washington Post, Park Wars, Jon Margolis, 9/9/02, p.29

The Bush Administration’s Charter Forest Proposal is an attempt to privatize and profit from public forestland. Under this proposal, public land management will be transferred from public hands to local privately controlled oversight boards. The Charter Forest Plan is the Bush administration’s attempt to further commodify and privatize the collective public domain of national forests by implementing ideas formulated by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). ARC represents resort developers, more than 100 motorized recreation industries and touts the Walt Disney Corporation as their most prominent member. According to its own description, the ARC “strives to catalyze public/private partnerships for outdoor recreation opportunities.” The ARC guided the development of President Clinton’s Fee Demonstration Program as well as the current Charter Forest Proposal.

The Charter Forest Plan would transfer authority of some national forests from the U.S. Forest Service to local “trusts” (board of trustees) consisting largely of “user groups.” This plan will decentralize forest management, allowing industry and local governments to wrest control of public lands from the federal government. Public domain makes up a third of the country and includes national parks, national forests and wilderness areas.

This Charter Forest Proposal promotes a “free-market environmentalism” which makes market demand the determiner for how public lands will be used. A chartered forest board of trustees, left on its own to raise revenue and manage a natural area, “discovers” that they can raise more money by charging $20 a night for a developed campground site, versus six dollars a night for an undeveloped space. Advertising would target wealthy patrons, offering “forest-based” lodging with a wide variety of items for purchase at convenient and tastefully rustic shops.

The charter forest concept goes hand in hand with the Clinton era Recreational Fee Program, charging people high fees to enjoy public lands; in essence imposing “double taxation” on areas for which Americans already pay taxes (for the management of these public forestlands). This is a pay-to-play plan requiring citizens to pay for access to national forests at hundreds of sites across the U.S. These proposals would allow corporations to decide through their boards of directors who uses the land and how. The ARC already shares responsibility with the Forest Service for the implementation of the Fee Program, through the Challenge Cost Share Agreement of 1996. Under this agreement they are in charge of preparing and distributing all press releases and fact sheets regarding the privatization and development of natural forest areas.

The ARC represents resort developers and strives to create new, highly profitable outdoor recreation opportunities for businesses, such as the Walt Disney Corporation. Local boards would have complete control over these lands and would be categorized as a corporation. The lands are to be privatized, developed, and outdoor recreation will be their product for sale (at up to $50 a day).

Francis Pandolfi (former Chair of ARC’s Recreation Roundtable before he was chosen as chief of staff of the Forest Service) stated at a 1997 FS staff meeting, “the next step is to use the recreation fee pilot project to pull together a first class business management plan…For the first time, we are selling a product.” As incorporated entities, the boards would also have the freedom to grant logging and mining contracts. The new proposal would obstruct the legal avenues currently available to environmental groups seeking to preserve public lands.

Wild Wilderness, an environmental organization is working to prevent this occurrence. Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness states, “Rec-fees and the Charter Forest Proposal are just the first visible manifestations of an entirely new federal land management paradigm, one that strongly emphasizes and promotes highly developed, intensively motorized recreation.”

UPDATED BY SCOTT SILVER: “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Henry David Thoreau more than 100 years ago. Consider the recent implications of wildness being commercialized, privatized and turned into recreation opportunities by federal land managers and the private-sector. Consider what happens when wildness is Disneyfied, marketed and sold to paying customers.

In light of Thoreau’s warning, the corporate takeover of nature is more than just another example of creeping privatization. And that is the story that was presented in the March-April 2002 issue of the Earth First! Journal.

Following the publication of “Privatization’s Trojan Horse,” 35 coordinated demonstrations took place in 16 states in an attempt to gain visibility for this issue. Our mission was to explain the value of preserving free access to wild nature and to warn the public that big changes were in the works.

For the most part, the corporate media failed to report upon these events. In some cases, reporters attended protests but failed to get their stories printed. Others published stories consisting of only a few sentences that neglected to address the real issues. In those rare cases, where lengthy articles were printed, government and recreation industry spokespersons put their own twisted spin upon the issues. Today, the Bush administration is racing to privatize everything of value. It is actively creating a fiscal crisis with policies revolving around tax-cuts and empire building. With the crisis becoming firmly entrenched, President Bush and his team can say: “We have no money, we must make cuts, cuts and still more cuts. And when cuts are not enough, we must turn to the private sector for help.”

Seeing this coming and sounding the alarm, the Earth First! Journal reported the news, while the corporate media looked the other way.

Perhaps there’s hope in the fact that the Bush administration is so blatant in its war upon democracy and its rush to strip citizens of everything they hold in common. The public is finally starting to get a whiff of what’s in the air.

With the threat of privatization of our national forests looming large, the question becomes: “Will our message be heard broadly enough so that this takeover agenda can be stopped in whatever time remains?”

For those wishing to learn more, contact Wild Wilderness, (541) 385-5261; ssilver@wildwilderness.org. The Wild Wilderness website, http://www.wildwilderness.org, documents threats to wildness that Thoreau could have never imagined.