Opening up forest lands...

There are many sides to sustainability issues. On many of our shows we have discussed the "triple bottom line" that integrates economic, environmental, and social costs into whatever cost-benefit analyses we do. Let's face it, the easiest to quantify in some respect are the economic. We value X and are willing to pay $Y for it and we figure out whether we are willing to make venture Z by how much we are willing to pay in dollars.

But as you might suspect, not everything is up for sale in dollars and cents. What is the value of clean water? What is the value of a healthy forest? Can a government, corporation, speculator, or risk assessor fairly determine the value to an ecological or social good like a healthy child or a healthy population of Great Blue Herons? Many of us suspect that their value lies beyond the pale of dollars and cents and that opening them up to exploitation would be awful. There are some things that might just have to be sacred.

Recently elected Republican Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Corbett just rescinded a major protection for state forest lands. According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, he has decided to reverse a Rendell administration moratorium on drilling in state forest land that was forwarded by the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The actual policy recommendation is no longer available at DCNR, a possible move by the Corbett administration to stop DCNR's and DEP's impact? (It is available here, at Penn Future.) We don't know at this point. But as the Pittsburgh Business Times notes,
The document called “Policy for the Evaluation of Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on State Parks and State Forests” has been rescinded and erased from the DEP website.
And DCNR's philosophy statement on Oil and Natural Gas says,
As of January 19, 2010, approximately 700,000 acres of State Forest lands are encumbered by oil and gas leases. This includes areas where the Commonwealth does not own the oil and gas rights. All of this acreage is located in the current Marcellus Shale fairway. To date, oil and gas development has been managed in concert with ecosystem management principles; affording the prestigious designation of a “well‐managed forest” by the Forest Stewardship Council. Considering the potential negative ecological and social impacts from increased oil and gas development, the Bureau of Forestry is currently focused on managing the activities occurring on the 700,000 acres under lease. Staff and resources are fully occupied. While it’s a component of the bureau’s Mission, and it has provided significant benefits in the form of revenues and domestic energy, the Bureau of Forestry has reservations about additional leasing at this point in time. The bureau needs time to evaluate large‐scale impacts of oil and gas activities over broad landscapes—something that cannot be accomplished in the near‐term. Oil and gas extraction is a part of the bureau’s history and will continue to be a part of its future in helping to provide both clean energy and economic returns, but must be done in a manner that conserves and protects the forest for future generations.
And therein lies the sustainability issue. DCNR, an already lightly staffed part of the state infrastructure is going to use its 300 employees to monitor several hundred thousand more acres of state forest land?

Look at the sheer acreage in the chart pasted below (also from DCNR). Almost half of the available state forests were under lease as of this publication, and now there will be more.

What do you think should happen? Can we assess these impacts in terms of dollars? Is that fair?

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