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Numbers don't make a monument

Editorial

In the end, it's the substance of the comments that is most important

When it is finally complete this fall, the management plan for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument will surely be one of the most heavily debated plans anywhere.

That's a good thing. The monument is public land, and the public ought to have every opportunity to help decide how it is managed.

However, it's important to understand the difference between public comments and administrative protests.

The Bureau of Land Management released the draft plan for the monument in 2002, two years after President Bill Clinton created it by proclamation. The draft plan generated a flood of public comments, 17,000 in all. Of those, about 300 were individual comments with in-depth suggestions and observations; many of the rest were form letters.

BLM officials considered all those public comments in preparing its proposed management plan, released last month. That started a 30-day protest period, during which people who participated in the planning process and who had a personal interest in the monument or nearby land that could be adversely affected by the plan could file formal protests. The BLM also requested comments ' distinct from protests ' pointing out errors or omissions or things that might need adjusting.

Once again, the floodgates opened. More than 10,000 comments were received, along with a handful of administrative protests, which will be carefully considered.

— As we wait for the final plan, expected in September, it's important to keep this all in perspective.

The time for public comment on whether the monument should have been created or how big it should be is long past. The monument exists. Its size has been determined. And, for the most part, the broad outlines of how it will be managed have been drawn.

This last phase is not about numbers. It's not a vote; it's the culmination of years of public involvement in an effort to preserve a unique and valuable piece of public land.

In fact, we think that public lands managers should make it clear that the number of comments received from the public on either side of an issue really has no bearing on the final decision. The comments, often inflated in numbers by prepared postcards, e-mail messages or Web site action alerts, are most valuable for the information they contain, not for the sheer volume sent out by interest groups.

BLM officials deserve credit for working long and conscientiously to carry out their responsibility to the monument and to the public that will benefit from it. We expect them to continue that diligence as they consider the protests and comments filed in the past month.