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Once again, Gloria Flora stands tall

Once again, Gloria Flora stands tall

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Thursday, Nov. 11, 1999 Missoulian Editorial

There ought to be a monument for Gloria Flora. Come to think of it, there is - sort of. Montana's incomparable Rocky Mountain Front will endure as a monument to this Forest Service official's strength and vision. It was Flora who, as Lewis and Clark National Forest supervisor in 1997, withstood industry and political pressure and banned oil and gas exploration along the Front.

Now Flora's back in the news. She abruptly resigned her current job as supervisor of the largest national forest in the lower 48 states - Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe - rather than submit to anti-government extremism fueled in part by opportunistic politicians.

Nevada is ground zero for the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that seeks to privatize public lands and resources. Lots of thinking people believe land can be made more productive and healthy by converting it to private ownership, but Sagebrush Rebels represent an extreme. There is an angry, sometimes hateful tone to their rhetoric, and it's not always clear whether their goal is privatization of federal lands or overthrow of the federal government.

Some of this goes with the territory in the rural West. Employees for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies often endure suspicion and antagonistic attitudes. There's certainly room to debate management of public lands and agencies, but we've seen through the 1980s and '90s a growing tendency for some politicians to exploit this environment of distrust. These are the politicians who inflame passions, rather than solve problems. They are the ones who characterize reasonable questions of public-resource management as a "War on the West."

Changing a policy regarding logging or endangered species protection is not warfare, and public servants are not enemies.

Flora resigned in advance of a congressional hearing in Nevada organized by Reps. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, and Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., to skewer federal employees.

"When a member of the United States Congress joins forces with them, using the power of the office to stage a public inquisition of federal employees followed by a political fund-raiser, I must protest. … I refuse to participate in this charade of normalcy."

The Forest Service can ill afford to lose leaders like Flora. But if her departure serves to call public attention to outrageous and dangerous attitudes and practices, her resignation may serve some constructive purpose.

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