The national forests were created early in this century in part because of conflict over how the nation's loosely managed forest reserves should be used, and the conflicts have never been resolved.
This year they are spilling over again. By the end of 1985, all 155 national forests must come up with new management plans covering the next 10 years.
Last night, nearly 100 people gathered in the town hall of this snow-covered northern New Hampshire town to have their say about how the White Mountain National Forest should be managed. Most were bitter and outspoken men who log the woods of the north country or supply those who do.
"I guess the thing that bothers me most is that we are listening to people from Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Lexington, name it," exclaimed Joe Croteau of nearby Berlin. "You've all been to Boston. You've all been to New York . . . That place is a . . . mess. They didn't need our help. They did it all by themselves, and now that they can no longer live with it, they've got to take our beautiful state and screw it up."
What the outsiders want, as told to the Forest Service in earlier hearings on the White Mountains in places like Boston and Lexington, Mass., is more land for recreation, more wilderness and less logging.
Croteau was greeted by loud laughter and applause. His sentiments were echoed time and again by others who complained about an "aristocracy" of forest users that would not stop until nature turned the entire forest into a wasteful wilderness of rotting trees or a blackened, burned-over horror left after downed trees are somehow set afire.
The conflict between loggers and advocates of wilderness and recreational use is hardly new. But it is particularly heated in the White Mountains, one of the most intensively used of all the forests.
The White Mountain National Forest has 751,000 acres, several thousand of which are above timberline in the Presidential Range surrounding Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. And tens of millions of people live within a few hours' drive.
The specific plan being recommended by the Forest Service here would set aside 12,000 acres for possible addition to the 102,000 presently designated for wilderness use, while also making 390,000 acres available for logging, nearly 50,000 more than the 344,000 at present.
USFS officials expect there will be between 5 million and 6 million visitor-days annually during the next 10 years. In contrast, the current annual value of the forest's output of wood is only about half a million dollars.
But that doesn't make people like Don Stecher, an official of the Andover Wood Products Co. a few miles to the east in Maine, back off.
"It is unfair that all of us who work in the forests have to pay attention to the small percentage of forest users who want more wilderness," Stecher complained. "Let's take forward action and get rid of some of this 102,000 acres of wilderness."
Since Congress designates wilderness, getting rid of any is not within the Forest Service's purview. In the White Mountains, it would be about as likely as a temperature of 80 degrees: not impossible, but not very likely when the weather observatory on top has never recorded anything higher than 77.
The snowmobilers came to the hearing, too, to oppose more wilderness areas. Wilderness areas are closed to all motorized uses -- even chain saws in the hands of USFS crews clearing trails or building footbridges.
The animosity seen in this week's meeting was no more intense than at some earlier ones, although in Boston and Lexington, the shoe was on the other foot. After they were over, the Wilderness Society issued a press release denouncing all of the five alternative forest plans under consideration.
That fits in with a denunciation in the weekly Berlin Reporter last week. Why has the Forest Service chosen an alternative that does not maximize wood production, it asked in an editorial.
"In our opinion," it said, "it is because of the incredible pressure placed on them by the large protectionist organizations -- organizations filled with people who have never seen the White Mountain National Forest and may not care whether we have jobs or not."
There is one distinct irony in the local situation. The biggest forest products employer by far is the Virginia-based James River Corp. Its woodlands manager was at the hearing expressing his own view that more, not less, land should be open to logging.
But when James River bought its local operations here a few years ago from Gulf & Western Industries, it effectively paid a large share of the purchase cost by selling off several hundred thousand acres of woodland in Maine. It would have sold its remaining land in New Hampshire had there been a buyer, according to James River Chairman Brenton S. Halsey.
The hearing here had more to do with emotion than with facts, which has probably been true at similar hearings across the nation. So far, about 30 forests have completed their plans, and every one has been appealed to Washington. That undoubtedly will happen here, too.
As Reuben Rajala, trails supervisor for the Applachian Mountain Club in the White Mountains put it, "We seem to be talking extremes." He got no applause when he added, "This is a national forest. It is not the Coos County forest . . . . Recreation is many, many times more important than timber."
But not necessarily if you make your living in the woods and don't want outsiders from Boston telling you, through the Forest Service, how and where you can do it.