by Kent Anderson
page four







In 1979 Professor Edwin Rhyne wrote a second social impact analysis for the Forest Service as part of the process toward issuance of the Final EIS. It was essentially an update of his report made five years earlier, but he did make the statement that opposition to the NRA had increased greatly since 1974. To an outsider, a seemingly important question might be one that both Rhyne and this author cannot answer with certainty, or as the Professor said, "Whether there was more total support or opposition to the proposed NRA is a more difficult estimate to make." Despite this, Rhyne said that he encountered more support in his field research for the 1978 Draft EIS than opposition, an observation of questionable astuteness due to the fact that nearly 24,000 signatures were collected against it and the Forest Service, itself, altered it so greatly as compared to the FEIS. The question, though, whether a majority of people around Mount Rogers support the National Recreation Area is actually not a very important question at all upon a deeper examination of the other issues.

It may very well be that a majority of inholders support an expanded NRA without the larger components of a ski lodge, a scenic highway, and all the impoundments. There is certainly a long and genuine list of truly willing sellers and the pro-development mayor of one of the key towns within the NRA was recently re-elected. Actually, though, a more pressing question for this report, and perhaps for our society, is whether a minority of individuals must suffer for the proclaimed good of the many. In other words, how many inholders need to be forcibly removed from their hones in order to adequately fulfill the Congressional mandate given to the Forest Service to fulfill its mission of managing a multiple-use National Recreation Area. It has been nearly six years since the last Declaration of Taking was used against an inholder in the Mount Rogers area. For those affected, obviously, the trauma feels as if it had occurred yesterday, and what is tragically ironic about the forced evictions of years past is that the reasons why many of those inholders were driven from their homes were for specified projects later canceled.

Like any responsible agency, the Forest Service must manage the Mount Rogers NRA the best way it knows how. For example, much of the reason that the ski complex was originally proposed was because the actual Act creating the National Recreation Area had the following language, "...effectuating the establishment of adequate summer and winter outdoor recreation facilities." It is understandable, then, why the Forest Service chose to promote the ski lodge (even though the snowfall for the area would probably not have consistently supported such expansive skiing). Like any agency, the Forest Service must follow the intent of Congress. The intent of Congress, though, often changes, as it should, with the trends of a dynamic nation.

The mid and lake 1960's had an economic boom mentality which may not be seen again in this century. Former Congressman Jennings said that he wanted the people of his district to "think big." many of them did and many did not. In part, the Forest Service displayed this ambivalence. It proceeded along some of the lines envisioned by Jennings and his supporters while, in other regards, it moved far too slowly for those same people who sincerely had hoped that the NRA would prove to be an enormous boon to the area. As Professor Rhyne correctly observed, the people and culture of Southwest Virginia have changed and will continue to change no matter what direction the Mount Rogers NRA takes. In fact, it could be argued fairly easily (and in enough detail to require two more reports) that the two greatest causes of cultural change in the area in the last 25 years have been the construction of Interstate Highway 81 and the spread of television. Both of these wrenched the people and their communities from their long-standing isolation with far greater force than could ever occur via the NRA. For a few score households, though, the NRA has had the unfortunate and troubling effect of violently wrenching them from their status among the hills and mountains they had loved.

As communities and Congressional intents change, so has the Forest Service. For years easements were not attempted within the NRA. The Forest Service still regards them as creating permanent adversary relationships within an area. Unlike National Park Service lands, National Forest lands allow for a variety of uses by the public such as hunting, fishing, wildlife grazing, foraging, and camping; a fact which, according to the USFS, makes easements unwieldy. Also, even though easements are regarded as a less costly form of land control than fee acquisition, the Forest Service said there are long-term hidden costs associated with them, or, in other words, the continual enforcement needed (e.g. periodic inspections). Despite all of these misgivings, the Forest Service at Mount Rogers has nonetheless undertaken the arduous task of implementing and promoting easements within the NRA. The new leadership at the Jefferson National Forest has often gone out to explain easements to the people and intends to continue to do so. The Jefferson Forest leadership stated that it would welcome an individual easement proposal from every affected inholder. The Forest Service also welcomed the assistance of the official lobby of the inholders, the National Inholders Association, in explaining the rights and options to those people most concerned, and often uninformed, about their land. It will be an enormous educational endeavor due to the long-term deep suspicions prevalent and the process will take years.

Of greater concern is the large amount of acreage still listed, not as easements, but as "must acquisitions." If these are truly needed, all parties must be informed as to the reasons. Whether any listings might be converted to easements is another potential avenue of discussion which might better relations between inholders and the Forest Service. Since those specified properties will presumably no longer be needed for the scenic highway or the ski lodge, their new multiple uses might be flexible enough to alter their acquisition from "must" to easement, or even to willing-seller. Obviously, there will be much needed dialogue on this difficult problem. As in the case of inholders along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there was fairly consistent comment on how the past two years of relations with the Forest Service has been the best in memory. Many inholders sensed a new willingness of USFS personnel to talk candidly about the future of the NRA and its relationship to land acquisition.

As another part of the changing Forest Service, it might be advisable for the agency to reconsider its policy of using Declarations of Taking, as opposed to straight condemnations, in the last-resort event of the use of eminent domain. The Forest Service has always used Declarations of Taking on the assumption that they are less painful (by the virtue of being quicker) to the affected party. To the Forest Service, the inholder can quickly withdraw the government-deposited money for his or her property and the litigation is less lengthy. One wonders, though, whether the process of straight condemnation, whereby an inholder, especially an elderly one, can remain in one's home for several years while the litigation progresses, might be a more preferable form of eminent domain than the heart-wrenching sight of the government evicting a citizen within 30 days or so. in retreating from its traditional use of DT's, the Forest Service would be trading a little more cost and time for its purposes for a more humane treatment for the affected inholder. Hopefully, the issue of DT's versus straight condemnations may become moot. The new Forest Service leadership in the area has indicated a greater determination to use eminent domain only as the very last resort, or as was put to this researcher, "If we're patient enough, we'll only be willing seller-willing buyer. In continually re-thinking and re-evaluating its goals and methods, the Forest Service would also be honoring the one man to whom it owes so much, Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, who said shortly before his death:

...our organization and our methods must never be frozen, but always subject to change.... Never change for the sake of change, but change for the sake of betterment the moment we were sure that betterment would follow change. The old battle cry of bureaucracy, 'We have always done it this way,' meant nothing to the men of the Forest Service. 1


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