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Forest Service roadless plan is a detour, say critics
A proposal for roadless areas released Tuesday by the U.S. Forest Service is already stirring up dust from two directions.
After six months of study mandated by President Clinton in October 1999, the Forest Service released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement recommending how roadless areas in the United States should be managed and protected in the future.
In its preferred alternative, the Forest Service calls for a ban on road construction over nearly 43 million acres, or 25 percent, of national forest land in the United States. The DEIS gives local Forest Service officials the final say on timber extraction, mining and off-road vehicle use.
Conservationists say the proposed plan is headed in the right direction but falls short of adequate protection.
"This plan only goes half of the distance," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife.
An end to road building does not mean an end to logging in national forests, conservationists note. Other logging methods used in roadless areas, including helicopter removal and bulldozing, can be more harmful than traditional logging, they maintain.
"In recent years the proliferation of newer and more efficient technologies have made logging without roads much more feasible," Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund reports. Helicopter loggers alone have the capacity to harvest well over 1 billion board feet per year in the United States, the group says.
The Forest Service's proposal does not sit any better with representatives of the timber industry and labor unions. They say the proposal will limit their access to national forest land.
"Ultimately, this proposal will impact thousands of rural communities and working families across America and deny access to our national forests," said Mike Draper, regional vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
The Northwest Forestry Association chimed in with its own warning: "Without access to manage our national forests, the public can look forward to more catastrophic fires," the group said in a news release.
The Forest Service's preferred alternative only addresses new road construction in inventoried roadless areas of more than 5,000 acres. "This leaves out nearly all national forest area east of the Mississippi," said Matthew Koehler, an organizer for the Native Forest Network. "Most of those roadless areas are under 5,000 acres."
Also missing from the proposal is any immediate plan for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the last temperate rain forest in the world and the nation's largest roadless forest. The favored alternative delays any management plan until 2004, allowing logging and road building to continue in the area until that time.
"This is a failure to recognize the most basic facts about the damage roads do," said Sean Cosgrove, a native forest policy specialist at the Sierra Club. "It is indisputable that roadless areas provide the best fish and wildlife habitat and drinking water in the country."
"Under this policy the call of the wild in our national forests will still be drowned by the whine of the chainsaw, the roar of the motorcycle and the moo of the cow," said Brian Vincent of the American Lands Alliance.
The DEIS will be reviewed during a 60-day comment period that includes more than 400 public meetings through July 17.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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