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Managing public lands is a struggle

So says former Forest Service executive and current environmental activist Gloria Flora

ASHLAND ' When it comes to professional challenges, Gloria Flora figures few face bureaucratic mountains as high as those confronting today's Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management officials.

Consider this, she says: They have to deal with new mandates from Congress as well as laws already in place, with social and economic needs and, equally important, with environmental impacts.

They are struggling today to make the mandates and the laws, the desires of the public and the effects on the land all complementary, said Flora, who will be the keynote speaker Friday evening at Headwaters' annual Forest Conference.

It's a balancing act that's nearly impossible to achieve, she concluded in a telephone interview Tuesday from her home in Helena, Mont.

Flora knows of what she speaks. During the 22 years she worked for the Forest Service, she served as supervisor of the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana and later the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in eastern Nevada. The latter is the largest national forest in the contiguous 48 states.

— Flora, who had raised energy industry eyebrows after banning oil and gas leasing in the Lewis and Clark forest, later fought to protect threatened trout in a small Nevada stream by refusing to rebuild a washed-out road into a wilderness area that was pushed by local residents.

After receiving threats to herself and her staff, and receiving no protection from local or federal law enforcement, she resigned in protest on Dec. 31, 1999. Then agency chief Mike Dombeck, who had backed her charges, later resigned over the directions being imposed on the agency.

Flora, who has a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture, is the executive director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions. She founded the non-profit group in 2001 to work toward the sustainability of all public lands and the plant, animal and human communities that depend on them.

Unfortunately, federal land management agencies don't often emphasize long-term sustainability on public lands, she said.

Typically, the BLM and the Forest Service tend to look strictly at short-term economic impacts and what will create jobs, she said, noting they should use triple bottom line accounting.

That would include considering the long-term environmental, economical and social impacts, she explained.

For instance, here in Montana, we have been treated many times as a developing nation by outside corporations who come in shaking trinkets and beads ' i.e. jobs, she said of proposed projects on public lands.

The jobs never turn out as promised and taxpayers are left with millions of dollars in clean-up costs, she said.

But she doesn't place all the blame on the agencies.

We're talking about something well beyond the agencies, she said. They are beholden to the administration.

When the Bush administration recently instructed the BLM to expedite energy projects in the Rocky Mountain states above other projects, officials had little choice but to oblige, she noted.

They don't have the luxury (to refuse), she said, adding, And that is a very serious encroachment on the ability of the public land management agencies to carry out laws.

Although she resigned near the end of the Clinton administration, she also has major concerns about the Bush administration.

This administration seems to act as though environmental laws are a suggested guidance that they don't need to pay attention to, she said. With that kind of attitude, 'Don't worry, we can mitigate anything,' it doesn't encourage people to treat land respectfully.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at Flora to speak at Headwaters Forest Conference ASHLAND ' Former national forest supervisor Gloria Flora will give the keynote address Friday at the 13th annual Headwaters' Forest Conference.

Her presentation will begin at 8 p.m. in the Ashland Springs Hotel ballroom.

Admission for the public is &

36;10. Students, seniors and conference registrants pay &

36;5 each. Tickets will be available at the door.

The theme for this year's conference is Mobilize the Grassroots in 2004.

The Forest Conference opens Thursday with 4 p.m. registration and a 7 p.m. welcome reception.

Pre-registration is available on-line at

For further information, call the Headwaters office at 482-4459.