Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Why bother?

I am not often discouraged. You cannot work on conservation issues in Amador County and be a pessimist -- it would just be too overwhelming. But sometimes I have to wonder why those of us who care about our county spend so much time participating in processes that seem rigged from the get-go.

Take the Kirkwood Mountain Resort expansion proposed for the Eldorado National Forest off Highway 88 -- the public land you and I own. In spite of many comments pointing out the myriad flaws in the expansion proposal -- destruction of scenic vistas and wildlife, increased traffic for intersections already at gridlock on busy ski days, and more -- the Forest Service has just approved the proposal pretty much as Kirkwood asked.

I know that big, powerful interests usually get their way in our world (Kirkwood's primary owner is a wealthy friend of the Bush family). I know that the Forest Service usually gives downhill ski resorts pretty much what they want, regardless of the damage they do to the environment (Kirkwood got an F in the last Ski Area Citizens' Scorecard). I figured that the fact Kirkwood was recently touting the plan to the media as if it were approved -- before the decision was made public -- was a bad sign.

But somehow I held out some small hope that maybe this time, it might be different. Foothill Conservancy and others -- including the U.S. EPA -- had pointed out the project's many deficiencies in detail, forcing the Forest Service to do a great deal more analysis. I had also heard that new Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Ramiro Villalvazo is "as green as they come."

But when I learned tonight that Supervisor Villalvazo had essentially given Kirkwood everything they asked for, my hopes were destroyed like the boulders Kirkwood plans to blast away on its cross-country ski trails. If Supervisor Villalvazo is as green as they come, someone's going to have to redefine green for me. Of course, he is only one player in a largely dysfunctional agency controlled by politicians who see nature as nothing but a profit center.

And tonight I cannot help but think of the resource agency people I know who struggle to do their jobs with integrity in spite of the politics of the day. How sad they must be to see a once-fine agency drop to this low level. How hard it must be for them to do what's right in the face of the political pressure that has so corrupted our national institutions.

Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot -- the fathers of our national forests -- are rolling in their graves.

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