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Compromise may bring best results

Environmentalists reacted with anger and bitterness this week at news the Minnesota DNR will proceed with an ATV trail in the Schoolcraft State Game Refuge despite opposition running 2-1 against it.

The anticipated reaction was disappointing on many levels, especially since the sheer numbers didn't tell the whole story.

That the DNR carefully considered the weight of each comment, for and against, is commendable. But it's also a cautionary tale for interests groups, not just those involved in environmental issues.

In today's age of computers, mass mailings, the Internet and instant opinion polls, it's far too easy for us to "voice our opinion" without even formulating one. Someone else has done it for us. We just hitch a ride along.

We think we can overwhelm opposing views by noise, as heard during the healthcare forums, or by the weight of numbers, as seen during the comment period to the Schoolcraft Trail.

Listening and compromise are becoming obsolete as noise and numbers threaten to drown out thoughtful dialog about pressing issues facing us all.

In the local case, the DNR found that 21 e-mails of opposition were from a chain e-letter sent out. Recipients simply clicked their "forward" buttons to send it on to the DNR, voicing opposition to the trail.

Did they bother to read the e-mail, revise it, discard it and send their own opinion against the trail? It seems not. Should their opinions have counted less because of that? The DNR thought so.

We're not going to second-guess the process since the agency admitted to its own internal discord over the wisdom of placing a trail in a remote area that will be used by all manner of recreational vehicles, hunters, hikers, bicyclists and others.

The agency itself had many spirited discussions about the trail, so we believe employees and divisions covered all the pros and cons.

There's enough land in the refuge for these interest groups to co-exist. This "my way or the highway" mentality serves no one's interests. When any constituency cannot see or will not see any other point but their own, they become fringe elements and their effectiveness and credibility are undermined by their own myopia.

The environmentalists have lost nothing. They can still be a vital part of the trail's success - or failure. It's time to back away from the keyboard, stop sending the venomous communiqués and instead devise ways to help in the enforcement of the trail's rules, to preserve the area for everyone.

If there are parts of the trail that simply don't work, the county, ATV club sponsor and DNR want to know about it. They're all amenable to suggestions on how to make the trail workable for all.

But what won't work is continued anger, finger-pointing and blame from the sidelines.

And for those who do get involved in future political, educational, environmental and controversial issues, it seems a thoughtful, individually-voiced opinion may actually count against the tides of opposition.