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‘Made in America’ to open forests

DAILY SUN NEWS EDITORIAL

For years now, extreme environmental groups have had more than their say in limiting access to publicly owned forests and other lands managed by federal agencies. The result has been bermed roads, gates, restricted use of ATVs and snowmobiles, banned boats and Jet Skis, and new policies and regulations stripping ruralites of the ability to collect firewood, mushrooms and just enjoy the great American outdoors.

That appears to be changing.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has taken a step in the right direction to address the extremist agenda. This past week, he created the “Made in America” Recreation Advisory Committee. The committee is charged with improving infrastructure and expanding access to public lands and waterways.

It’s a bold move that is desperately needed here in Washington state and indeed The West as a whole. And it’s a stark difference to the failed lock-it-up approach used by his predecessor Sally Jewell, who moved to shutter public access and use of lands and water whenever and wherever possible.

While the committee is only advisory in nature — so far — it will have input into public-private management partnerships, user-fees, use of technology and in the creation of opportunities for public access to the land it owns.

Given the rugged terrain of federally managed lands here in Washington and the entire West, we hope reopening many of the historic forest routes to motorized public access comes swiftly.

You don’t have to look very far to see some of the opportunities that exist but have deteriorated or been shut down because of the U.S. Forest Service’s implementation of so-called “travel plans” or because of threats of lawsuits designed over backcountry road and trail repairs.

Rural communities of the American West have a rich culture, heritage and history that stems from public access to and use of the land and water. But with the rise of the extreme environmental agenda, eroded access to publicly owned land managed by federal agencies has taken its toll on ruralites, and the rural economy.

In the most recent report on federal land ownership, five federal agencies — Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense and Fish and Wildlife Service — controlled access to 12.2 million acres of land in Washington state alone in 2015. The same agencies had control of 1.1 billion acres nationally, according to the study.

Rather than manage the land, some of the agencies adopted an agenda that essentially stripped motorized access. The result has been a rural economic decline, and in recent years, massive wildfires.

Expanding motorized and other access on federally managed lands and water will provide a jumpstart for rural economies. It will reopen the door for physically impaired Americans to enjoy the backcountry. And ultimately, it will go a long way toward helping to curtail the explosive wildfires that have devastated the West.

Expanding motorized and all other access to public lands is clearly a move in the right direction.

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