Our opinion: Premature alarm

An environmental group that seems to eschew the notion of multiple use that has been the keystone of management of the Allegheny National Forest for decades believes it has uncovered a smoking gun held by timber interests that portends the denuding of the hillsides along the upper Allegheny River basin similar to what existed more than a century ago.

Essentially, they are sounding the alarm that the timber industry found a friend in Gov. Tom Corbett, who requested that the entire Allegheny National Forest be designated an “insect and disease treatment area.” And, coupled with certain provisions of the most recent Farm Bill, “insect and disease treatment” includes timbering to remove insect-infested and diseased timber.

Here’s a news flash: In its management of the ANF, the U.S. Forest Service has treated the half-million acres of national forest, the only national forest in Pennsylvania, as an insect and disease treatment area for nearly as long as Uncle Sam has owned the property.

It has attacked gypsy moths when gypsy moth infestations have been rife. It has attacked the emerald ash borer when that shiny little beast was chewing through bark, and it has gone after a myriad of other destructive species. It has done it with the introduction of predator species and environmentally friendly agents to keep those populations in check.

And, yes, it has approved some logging projects with an eye toward cleaning out pockets of disease to protect the Allegheny’s crop of extraordinarily valuable timber resources.

It has done this while juggling recreational interests, privately owned oil and gas rights and environmental concerns.

In response to the designation, a Forest Service spokesperson vowed that any decisions regarding timbering and other overt measures to control disease and insect infestation would only come after public involvement, promising “full collaboration” and “totally transparent public involvement” in the process.

For those who have lived with and enjoyed the ANF over the years, the Forest Service response to the designation sounds a lot like what it has been doing all along.

The Forest Service has been given a difficult job balancing competing interests on a very valuable asset in four Pennsylvania counties, and we happen to believe that the agency has been doing a very good job for a very long time, despite periodic changes in administrations and their philosophies on public lands.

With that track record in mind, we’re not ready to pull the fire alarm on this one.