The U.S. Forest Service has recently revised estimates on how much the national economy benefits from recreation on national forest lands. During the Clinton administration, the Forest Service had estimated that recreation in U.S. forests would annually account for nearly $111 billion of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2000. But Bush-administration officials, saying that the Forest Service now has more concrete data to work with, contend that recreation only accounts for $11 billion of the nation's GDP.

Environmentalists are concerned that the new numbers will be seized upon as a reason why there should be more logging and mining on national forest lands. In the past, by citing the $111 billion GDP figure, environmentalists and conservationists could claim an economic justification for protecting forest land for sightseers, hunters, and fishers.

This administration's lack of credibility makes environmentalists suspicious of the latest figures. We wonder if the books have been cooked, noting that the downward revision seems very convenient for the Bush administration, which has promoted increased logging and mining on federal lands. But a dispute over recreation's contribution to the economy misses the whole point of why the federal government sets aside environmentally sensitive lands in the first place. This isn't about money. It is supposed to be about protecting the land for current and future generations.

Trying to pin a dollar figure that would measure the true importance of, say, the Grand Canyon or any other natural treasure is simply ludicrous. When Theodore Roosevelt, one of this country's greatest Republican presidents, established the national park service at the turn of the 20th Century, he wasn't concerned with what economic contribution would be made by the creation of national parks and wildlife refuges. He understood that these lands needed to be protected from being ruined - something lost on the current occupant of the White House.

Gerald Neff,

Chair, Eagle View Group Sierra Club

Pleasant Valley, Iowa


In last week's Over the Tavern theatre review, leading actor Lucas Waller's name was spelled incorrectly. Reader critic Mike Schulz apologizes for the error, as his own last name is routinely misspelled, and he knows how annoying that is.

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