Leadership sometimes requires making an unpopular decision. Coos County commissioners did the right thing last week, resisting pressure to torpedo a tribal logging project.
The Coquille Indian Tribe has spent the past several years pursuing an innovative deal with the federal Bureau of Land Management. If the government agrees to tribal stewardship of some federal lands, the tribe's special legal status might allow increased timber cutting -- bringing more revenue for the county and more jobs for local residents.
Previous commissioners endorsed the tribe's plan in 2008. But greed always is the enemy of cooperation. Recent publicity about the tribe's progress provoked a movement by some local citizens to elbow the tribe aside and pursue county control of the forest.
The county-centric option probably was tempting to the commissioners. But going into competition with the tribe would have been disastrous for the community.
Winning federal approval for a new kind of land management is a delicate political process. Any such proposal must get past a cautious bureaucracy, a skeptical Congress, and a powerful environmental lobby that reflexively opposes timber harvesting.
Politically, an Indian tribe is better-positioned to prevail in today's Washington than a county would be. But even a tribe can't win if the feds perceive a divided community. Rather than referee a squabble between local entities, the feds would walk away, leaving our community with no new timber revenue, no new jobs, and a fresh grudge between the tribe and the county.
The commissioners wisely decided that a share of something is better than all of nothing. They'll continue backing the tribe, though they intend to negotiate for better terms.
Renewed talks with the tribe may be fruitful, but the county should walk softly. To succeed, this project must be designed around federal political realities, not local ones.