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A common theme in the stimulus and budget debates of the past few months has centered on the future we leave our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  That question is not rare or new.  It has been part of the discussion of nearly every issue taken up by Congress since the days of our Founding Fathers.  It was no doubt a factor in establishing the first Earth Day and it is the same question we each should be asking today.

Perhaps no one understands this question better than those who work with and are out in nature each day-from America's farmers and ranchers, whose viability depends on the soil and water, to the recreationist and hunter, who venture to remote areas for the outdoor experience.

As a rancher, I know the concern many have when drought cuts short the summer grazing season.  I also know the relief when a long winter and rainy spring extend that season into the fall.  Similarly, as a recreationist and hunter, I have seen the beauty of some of our nation's most pristine country as well as bountiful wildlife.  These experiences have made it easy to recognize our dependence on the earth and the necessity of a responsible management plan to protect its natural balance.

As Idaho's governor, I helped create such a plan to manage more than 9.3 million acres of public lands that was being disputed following its designation as roadless by the Clinton administration.  We held hearings in each county where those lands were found and received comments from hundreds of citizens and interest groups on how to best utilize that land.  The input was then used to create management themes to classify the land and its use.

By listening and working together, we crafted a plan that preserved some of Idaho's most pristine areas and allowed for multiple use by recreationists and others.  In the end, no group that participated in the process got everything they wanted, but they did get an equitable plan to which they could agree.

My first vote in the U.S. Senate was on S. 22, legislation that included a similarly collaborative plan that resolved a long-standing land-use dispute and designated a portion of Idaho as wilderness and the remainder as multiple use.  In this case, years of debate and negotiations among local citizens, conservation groups, recreationists and tribes yielded a plan that protected the livelihood of working ranch families, while providing certainty to recreationists and protecting important cultural resources.  Again, no one side got everything they were after, but a compromise was reached that best served all.  A rural county was able to protect jobs and income while unique areas were preserved for future generations.

In the coming months, Congress is expected to take up a host of issues that will have a significant impact on the lands, air and waters on which we depend.  One example is the comprehensive energy bill being developed in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to address the availability, sustainability and cost of energy.

As the committee works on this bill, I am confident that the process will be one of dialogue and inclusion.  On this and other important legislation, the result does not have to be the environment or jobs.  We can and must protect both.  But to do so requires a good-faith effort to communicate and a spirit of give and take with the best interests of all citizens in mind.

This kind of collaboration is common on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee where most of the members come from western states and many have worked with the earth and its resources from a young age.  It is the kind of collaboration we need as we develop balanced and responsible plans to both use and protect the earth and her resources.  Only then will we leave the best future for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.