Clinton urged to protect roadless areas
January 15, 1999
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- While conservationists applaud the Clinton administration's recent announcement to purchase and protect more land, they are urging the administration to make good on promises to preserve existing public land.
When Clinton signed the Forest Service 1998 spending plan on Nov. 14, 1997, he said his administration was looking into developing a roadless area management policy that is based on "science, not politics."
However, to date, that policy has not been developed and conservationists are concerned that the Forest Service is working on a transportation policy to build new roads instead of protecting roadless areas, said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, an umbrella group that is working to secure permanent protection of wild areas in the National Forests.
"If President Clinton and Vice President Gore really want a 'lands legacy' as they say they do, they should permanently protect our last wild National Forest roadless areas over 1,000 acres and manage these Heritage Forests according to science instead of politics as the president promised over a year ago," said Rait.
Currently, 30 percent of the National Forests are considered roadless areas larger than 1,000 acres. Yet these lands are not protected from logging, mining and oil and gas drilling and thus the roads those activities require.
Conservationists want these areas protected because they provide unmatched opportunities for camping, hiking and other recreational pursuits, valuable habitat for fish and wildlife and abundant supplies of clean drinking water.
While conservationists have praised the administration's initiatives to purchase more federal land for protection, their approval is no sure bet. The initiatives must gain Congressional approval, which is always a fight, said Rait.
"A more certain way to protect land is to spare the wilderness we already own, which practically everyone would agree is the most fiscally responsible thing to do."
In the next two weeks, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to implement a temporary moratorium on the construction of new roads in some roadless areas. While there is hope that the administration will use "science, not politics" as it develops a management plan, conservationists are skeptical.
"The Forest Service is forging ahead with an 18-month study into how to build and pay for more roads in wilderness areas, not protect them for future generations," said Rait.
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