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Pioneer Editorial: Standards to log on county lands sensible

Government ought not provide onerous barriers in the way of those who wish to make an honest living, but as a steward for the public good, it must also protect the assets in which we have placed our trust in government to oversee for us.

That includes Beltrami County's vast natural resources, the 147,000 acres of tax-forfeit land over which we all claim ownership. The County Board is now taking an active role as a steward of those assets, having appointed a Park and Trail Advisory Council to make recommenda-tions on how we all can recreate on our public lands, establish trails or just plain enjoy a day at the "park."

But the county's lands are also productive lands, providing more than $1.25 million a year in revenues to the county, townships and school districts through timber harvests. We want to maintain that productivity, but also want room for all the other uses we seek for our public resources. But, most importantly, we want anything done to be sustainable. That means adhering to practices that don't harm the environment but yet allow a sustainable harvest of timber.

Part of that process the county seeks is independent certification of its timber management practices that they are indeed sustainable and non-harmful to the future health of our valuable natural assets.

The County Board last week took testimony on part of those plans, which will require that independent contractors who wish to log on county land meet certain standards. While there is criticism of those standards, particularly in requiring training and continuing education, they are important steps to ensure that those who would take from our county lands do so as stewards, not as profiteers. Requiring a couple classes at $75 each doesn't seem too burdensome for someone making a living off county lands, and proving to us that they care about the health of our assets as much as we do.

We were surprised, however, at a logger balking at having to pay liability insurance, a pricey item at $1,000 or more. We weren't surprised at the requirement -- but that it hasn't always been required. In today's litigious society, we shudder to think of anyone hauling and using heavy equipment on the public's lands without proper insurance. It puts the taxpayer at a terrible risk, and those who cannot afford it should seek another line of work.

There are a lot things government can do to help the timber industry -- such as boosting allowable cuts on federal lands, stabilizing stumpage fees, improving forest roads and providing a smooth permitting process -- but requiring a certain level of standards and adherence to best practices forestry management isn't too onerous for those wanting to reap financial benefits from our bountiful resources. They just have to be crafted so that they do not become yet another layer of government bureaucratic red tape, and we don't believe that is Beltrami County's intent.