DO YOU KNOW: School Trust Lands - The heart of the matter

by Garry Gamble
When it comes to Superior National Forest, as well as School Trust Lands, the focus of recent columns, the blunt, unambiguous, question to be asked is: “For whom are these lands managed?”
The answer to this question gets to the heart of the matter. As repeated, ad nauseam, in the recent three-part series on school trust lands, the trust manager’s obligation is to make the trust productive and to act with undivided loyalty to the beneficiary; in this case public schools.
Not so “common sense,” would conclude this means roll up your sleeves and make some real money. Don’t sell out; i.e. sell your birthright for a mess of potage. And while we’re in The Book, remember the parable about the talents?
Good stewardship is rewarded, “burying” our opportunities should be seen as a negative. The outright selling of school trust lands for potage can hardly be worth relinquishing one’s potential for a greater return on the “birthright” opportunities afforded us.
We spend far too much time and energy attempting to manufacture consent for things that just don’t add up.
As for Superior National Forest, one of 154 national forest systems administered by the U.S.Forest Service, recall Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the Forest Service (1905-1910)–self-proclaimed to have “had no more conception of what it meant to be a forester than the man in the moon.” Considered the “father” of American forestry, Pinchot summed up the mission of the Forest Service this way: “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.”
This morphed in 1993 into the U.S. Forest Service’s byline, “Caring for the land and serving people,” which still survives today. As set forth in law, the mission of the U.S. Forest Service is “to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people.”
Pinchot believed the most important job of a Forester was to develop effective plans for the use of a forest. Orderly exploration, development, and production of mineral and energy resources on national forest lands to help meet the present and future needs of the nation is consistent with the Forest Service mission and with the Superior National Forest plan.
That’s great, given the findings of a recent poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies involving 400 registered voters in Cook, Koochiching, Itasca, St. Louis and Lake Counties. Respondents support environmentally-responsible mining in the region by greater than a 3-1 margin.
Given the fact mineral leasing and royalty payments comprised 88% of school trust resources generated in FY2015, heretofore latent school trust lands portend great revenue potential through exchange.
Even so, in January 2017, the U. S. Forest Service submitted an application to the Secretary of the Interior requesting a 20 year withdrawal of 234,000 acres of National Forest Service lands within the Rainy River Watershed in the Superior National Forest from disposition under United States mineral leasing laws. If the application is approved, thousands of acres of State owned School Trust Lands will not be available for exploration or mineral development during the 20 year withdrawal period.
And what about the aging timber crowded forest lands?
In the opinion of Dr. Jeff Edgens, former Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry at the University of Kentucky and an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis, “Dead and dying wood is the greatest environmental hazard threatening our national forests.”
A 2016 Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) Policy Series article titled, “Clearing the Smoke from Wildfire Policy: An Economic Perspective,” authored by Dean Lueck and Jonathan Yoder, reveals that in 2015, “wildfires burned more than 10 million acres in the United States at a cost of $2.1 billion in federal expenditures. As the fires burned, the U.S. Forest Service announced that, for the first time, more than half of its budget would be devoted to wildfire.
And the situation is likely to get worse. Within a decade, the agency estimates that it will spend more than two-thirds of its budget battling fires.”
As a commissioner, I began to appreciate the significance in this fact as we were told forest service roads were going to be abandoned as there were no longer funds to maintain these roads as an ever-increasing percentage of the forest service’s budget was being diverted to fight wild fires.
Holly Fretwell, Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics, observes: “In many forests, an understory of shade-tolerant Douglas fir has grown so dense it is difficult for man or animal to squeeze through the thickets of limbs. The trees compete for moisture and nourishment, leaving them in poor health and vulnerable to insects and disease. The grassy meadows and small, sunny openings have disappeared and along with them the willows, berries, and other forage for wildlife. As the forests have grown dense and the food supplies dwindled, the wildlife in many areas has also vanished.” [Surprise! Surprise!]
Meanwhile, revenue generated from timber harvest (Federal Forest Receipts), which help fund Cook County schools, roads, emergency management expenses, and firewise program have plummeted some 77% since 2009!
“We are not achieving our goals. Something has gone wrong in the federal estate, and one does not have to be a forest ecologist to see that our national forests are at risk under the current management system.
Ironically, forest management practices have put at risk the very qualities they were supposed to preserve,” laments Ms Fretwell. Alexander F. Annett, former Environmental Policy Analyst in The Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, writes, “Conserving America’s land resources has been a federal concern since President Theodore Roosevelt made it a national priority more than 100 years ago. The objective was not just to conserve and protect the environment, but also to enhance the quality of life for Americans and improve the use of natural resources. Today, however, federal land management policy has strayed far from President Roosevelt’s vision. Instead, Washington has implemented a command-and-control approach that wastes valuable financial resources and at times is environmentally harmful.”
Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace International, said in an interview in the New Scientist in December 1999, “The environmental movement abandoned science and logic somewhere in the mid-1980s ... political activists were using environmental rhetoric to cover up agendas that had more to do with class warfare and anti-corporatism than with the actual science....”
Moore was right in his critique of the movement to which he made such an important early contribution. Too often, modern environmentalism has become anti-human, anti-freedom, anti-economic development, and anti-reason. It is time to reverse this trend.

Garry Gamble is a a former Cook County Commissioner.