Editorial: Deal protecting Fishlake Forest sets a good example
Drilling deal will protect forest
Published: February 17, 2014 05:23PM
Updated: February 19, 2014 08:54AM

It’s a long, uncertain slog sometimes. But there remain reasons to believe that it is possible to search for the fossil fuel resources that the world, sadly, still needs in abundance without laying waste the rest of the natural world.

Those who say, from either side of the argument, that it is an all or nothing proposition have little to contribute.

The latest example was announced just the other day, as environmental groups including WildEarth Guardians and the Grand Canyon Trust have struck a deal in which the U.S. Forest Service would allow oil and gas exploration and development in a much smaller portion of south central Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, with much stricter, and more site-specific, restrictions aimed at protecting the area’s air and wildlife.

The deal sets aside an earlier Forest Service plan, one that would have allowed extraction activities over 1.7 million acres, carrying with it the creation of 166 miles of new roads and maybe 73 wells.

The new arrangement will keep those high-impact activities out of the vast majority — 1.3 million acres — of the planning area. It will also include 23 pages of stipulations setting specific expectations for how drillers will and will not be allowed to operate on the areas left to them.

Part of the reason the new arrangement became possible, apparently, is that the price of natural gas has dipped significantly, making it less lucrative for the extractive industries to fight for a right to make an unlimited number of holes in the earth and an unlimited number of roads to service them.

And, one might argue, it is too bad that the Forest Service didn’t set such restrictions itself, rather than act more passively and leave the situation in such peril that privately funded environmental action groups had to take up the fight themselves.

Taking the short-term, profit-over-preservation attitude is supposed to be the province of private business which, especially in the case of the fossil fuel industry, is by nature boom-and-bust and designed for immediate gratification.

The Forest Service, though, is part of the federal government. Its supposed to take a long-term view of both economic viability and the preservation of unique natural resources.

Officials of Utah’s state government, who often seem to hear only the drumbeat of the extractive economy, could benefit by thinking more like the Forest Service in this case.

If they did, we could have a lot less of the expensive and short-sighted policy in favor of digging up Utah, and more effort toward our state’s preservation.