Thune Introduces ?Charter Forest’ Legislation In House

Thune Introduces ?Charter Forest' Legislation In House RAPID CITY (AP) — The Black Hills National Forest would be designated a pilot ??charter forest'' under legislation introduced Thursday by Republican Rep. John Thune.

The measure would give more control of forest management to local advisory groups, said Thune. If approved, the bill would make the Black Hills National Forest the first charter forest in the nation, he said.

??The people who live, work and recreate in the Black Hills have a better understanding of the issues that the area faces,'' Thune said in a news release.

??Instead of a one-size-fits-all policy dictated from Washington, this legislation will allow local people to solve the local problems and design a custom-made, balanced policy for the Black Hills National Forest,'' Thune said.

President Bush endorsed the idea of pilot programs for a few charter forests earlier this year.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who faces Thune in the November general election, said charter forests can play a role in streamlining and improving forest management.

But Johnson said an advisory board that the Forest Service is recruiting could also help implement reforms for forest management.

??I am also waiting to hear from the Forest Service on what administrative reforms can be made without waiting for congressional action,'' Johnson said in a statement.

??We have a dire situation in many parts of our forestlands and the administration can take some immediate steps to improve forest management,'' he said.

Tom Troxel, executive director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, approves of the bill.

??We like the concept a lot,'' he said. ??There's an increasing recognition in the West that forest health will be better served by an increased emphasis on local decision-making.''

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, oppose charter forests, saying national forests belong to all citizens not just those who live near public lands.

The bill would create a 13-member community management council for the Black Hills National Forest that would do more than just give advice, said Thune.

The secretary of agriculture would appoint council members, in consultation with the governors of South Dakota and Wyoming and the congressional delegations of both states. The Black Hills National Forest straddles the Wyoming-South Dakota state line.

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