Bush cabinet member comes to Northland

by Tom Coombe

President Bush’s top gun on land management came to northeastern Minnesota last week and stumped for votes.<BR><BR>Interior Secretary Gale Norton spoke to a crowd of about 250 in Canyon Wednesday, drumming up support for President Bush and rattling off administration policy in favor of logging and multiple-use on public lands, and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) in Alaska.<BR><BR>Logging trucks lined Highway 53 when Norton arrived and loggers made up much of the audience at the event, held in a large garage owned by Canyon logger Peter Wood.<BR><BR>Norton played to her audience, opening the address with criticism of the U.S. Forest Service and a call for further logging on national forest lands.<BR><BR>“We’ve had well-intentioned but misguided management of our forests for decades and decades,” Norton said. “When you thin the forest you can create jobs. President Bush believes people can make a living in our forests.”<BR><BR>Norton also pushed for further use of natural fire as a means for thinning the forest.<BR><BR>“Smokey Bear had a great message but we’ve applied it too far,” said Norton. “Today we have forests that don’t look at all like natural forests.”<BR><BR>Minnesota is one of several battleground states in the election between the Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger - Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.<BR><BR>The Bush campaign is citing differences with Kerry over environmental issues as it looks to make political inroads in northeastern Minnesota - a traditional DFL stronghold.<BR><BR>“I don’t believe in one size fits all management of our public lands,” said Norton. “Neither does President Bush. We shouldn’t have one rule for Florida that’s the same for Alaska.”<BR><BR>Norton criticized Kerry’s support for the roadless initiative - a plan barring further road development on public lands - and said the Bush administration favors multiple use including the operation of snowmobiles in national parks.<BR><BR>“I never would have thought that we would see snowmobiles as an election issue,” said Norton. “They (the Kerry-Edwards campaign) specifically say they would ban snowmobiles in national parks.<BR><BR>Norton said she was unfamiliar with a series of recent initiatives curtailing ATV use in the forest, but called for regulations that would allow for multiple use.<BR><BR>“I would like to see the people who want to see ATVs sit down with the people who don’t,” said Norton. “Let’s get everybody together and figure out a plan. Maybe you could have the ATVers go over here and the hikers over there.<BR><BR>“You’ve got one candidate who wants to ban snowmobiles in national parks and another who wants to work with people. I think that same philosophy is likely to follow on ATVs.”<BR><BR>The Kerry campaign responded later Wednesday and claimed that Norton was distorting the Democrat’s record.<BR><BR>Earlier this month, Kerry wrote to State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and said he had no intention of banning snowmobile use in currently open areas of national parks and forest land.<BR><BR>Norton also called for support of the Bush energy policy, which includes opening ANWAR to oil drilling.<BR><BR>According to Norton, the area has enough oil to meet U.S. energy needs for 40 years.<BR><BR>“That’s three square miles out of the size of South Carolina,” said Norton. “That’s the area we are talking about. We could get more oil than we import from almost any other country. Senator Kerry is proud that he led the fight against that.”