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Archive for Saturday, December 8, 1990

SATURDAY COLUMN

December 8, 1990

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Various individuals have tried to predict what the decade of the 1990s will be remembered for and what some of the major "causes" or concerns are likely to be during the next 10 years. Those associated closely and emotionally with a particular cause or effort naturally hope their specific project will capture the public's attention and support.

Currently, one of the major concerns and efforts by many focuses on the environment. This is a worldwide concern, not limited to one particular country. "Environment" covers an extremely broad spectrum and can touch just about any human activity. Many have tried to group these various and diverse efforts under the label of the "greens," perhaps starting with a group of ecologists and environmentalists in West Germany who formed a political party and elected members to the West German parliament. The German "Greens" suffered major setbacks in their country's just-completed elections with news reports telling about the "far leftist" Greens, "Europe's most established ecology movement," losing most of their seats in the German parliament.

Likewise, many of the so-called "green" initiatives in California's November elections were defeated as were others in other states.

NEVERTHELESS, concern about the environment and ecology remains strong with an increasing number of people becoming more aware of the importance of taking care of our environment, our planet.

Very few individuals set out deliberately to destroy the environment or to make this planet a less attractive, less hospitable and more dangerous place to live. At the same time, there is a difficult-to-answer question of when and where does the right of an individual to do what he wishes with his own property, as long as it doesn't break the law or create something bad for his neighbors, intersect with the wishes of others. Where is the line to be drawn on private rights versus public rights or public concerns?

More trees are being planted in the U.S. these days than at any time in our nation's history. And yet, there are many who want to stop timber companies from cutting down mature trees. Some people are obsessed with paper recycling and attempt to measure as many paper-timber products as they can by the number of trees required to produce the item. Where should the line be drawn on the question of private and municipal interests building a badly needed dam for water conservation vs. the possible harm to some small aquatic animals? How about the local case of the south Lawrence trafficway and the possible danger to a rare frog?

IN THE PACIFIC Northwest, timber companies were stopped from cutting down trees which many claimed were the sole habitat of a "spotted owl." Since then, the owls have been discovered living in "forests" miles away, planted by timber and paper companies. This, however, doesn't stop those who want to halt timber cutting in what has been considered the spotted owl's sole sanctuary.

In Colorado, some residents around Steamboat Springs have been using every possible argument to stop development of a new ski area, because they think it will have a negative impact on the environment.

In other areas of Colorado, various city agencies are calling for the elimination of all wood-burning fireplaces.

This week, Newsweek magazine carried a color picture of the plowing of the Elkins prairie, an 80-acre plot of virgin prairie land a few miles west of Lawrence.

The plowing has caused all kinds of debate, and repercussions of this action are likely to be felt for some time to come. This, however, is another example of where should the line be drawn between the right of the individual to do whatever he wishes with his land as long as it does not violate any law, vs. the desires of others who are opposed to the land use, even though they have absolutely no ownership position.

IT HAS BECOME fairly obvious those who want to delay, stall and defeat various kinds of private land development projects now have a fairly well-thought-out plan of action. The "greens,'' environmentalists, ecologists and others have learned how to put the brakes on many private projects.

The game plan, or "play book'' for those who are opposed to many projects which affect the environment has been outlined by a Colorado resident who is critical of environmentalists imposing their will on others.

The strategy as outlined by this Colorado resident is as follows:

First, make every conceivable effort to enlarge the scope of any Environmental Impact Study process by requiring that every impact of the project, no matter how minute, be studied to the point of exhaustion.

Second, monitor the EIS process to search for any possible flaw, but don't join with others in the community to search for constructive answers to problems.

Third, whenever possible, question the integrity of the project developer and local government officials.

Fourth, import speakers from national environmental groups that oppose any use of national forest other than wilderness and who have no economic ties to the community.

Fifth, without making any reference to any reliable scientific data, make erroneous statements about the environmental impact of the proposed project.

Sixth, attempt to make public hearings and meetings into carnivals with signs, painted faces and emotional statements not based on fact.

Seventh, when all the studies and public hearings are complete and a comprehensive EIS has been produced, state that it is inadequate and ask for more public hearings and studies.

Finally, when all else has failed, threaten to file appeals and lawsuits in federal courts and try to tie the project up in red tape for years.

THIS MAY BE an unfair description of the "game plan" or actions of many of those who are sincere in their concern for the environment, but unfortunately it is becoming the game plan for an increasing number of people who, for one reason or another, are dead set against many projects. In some cases, the real motivation for their opposition might be for some other reason, but "environment'' serves as an ideal, convenient and popular cause and excuse.

This type of action damages the reputation and image of individuals associated with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy who are vitally and genuinely interested in the environment. Such people carry out their programs in a positive, progressive manner, trying to work with all parties, rather than being negative, strident and sometimes even violent in their efforts.

As our country grows, there will be greater and greater demands for land use by a growing population. Our national parks will face tremendous pressures from millions more visitors every year. There are likely to be an increasing number of clashes between private developers and government units, with those opposed to growth, those who do not want to disturb the land and those who suggest growth and expansion is a harmful invasion of our environment.

It is hoped reasonable individuals will be able to arrive at reasonable solutions to this complicated problem. We all want to preserve our natural beauty and we all want future generations to be able to enjoy the magnificent beauty of this country, and the majority of citizens do not want to see a curtailment of private rights.

Think how great it would be if the decade of the '90s could be remembered as the era when responsible individuals environmentalists, developers and others were able to work together in a reasonable manner to accommodate growth and at the same time protect our environment for future generations.

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