Road building moratorium falls short of safeguarding unprotected wilderness

provided by American Land Alliance


he American Lands Alliance urged the Clinton Administration last month to beef up the Forest Service's interim policy to preserve America's unprotected forests. Despite President Clinton's promise to protect the nation's last wild forests, the Service's plan leaves many of those forests vulnerable to logging road construction, timber harvesting and development activities. Other wild areas would only be given an 18-month reprieve from logging roads.

"President Clinton said science, not politics, should guide management for these remaining wild forests. But the Forest Service's policy, influenced more by political science than biological science, passes over some of our most cherished forests," said Brian Vincent, California Organizer for American Lands.

At stake are 60 million acres, or about 30 percent of the National Forest system, still wild and roadless, but unprotected from logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling and the destructive roads such activities require. These areas provide unmatched opportunities for camping, hiking and other recreational pursuits, valuable habitat for fish and wildlife, and abundant supplies of clean drinking water. Forest Chief Mike Dombeck received more than 70,000 public comments supporting wilderness when the initiative was announced in January, 1998. Although Dombeck announced in a speech February 3 in Missoula, Montana, that he believes "the Forest Service will rarely build new roads into roadless areas," the policy unveiled this week contains no requirement that such areas be protected.

The policy exempts vast tracts of National Forest lands in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere, neglects smaller, ecologically significant roadless forests, and still allows some types of logging, such as helicopter logging, and other damaging activities like grazing and mining that would not involve road building.

And, there is no guarantee areas covered by the policy would receive permanent protection. Under the interim plan, some roadless areas in the Sierra Nevada deserving protection will not be spared from logging and road building. In the Tahoe National Forest, for example, Devils Canyon, which contains the largest stand of old growth trees in Nevada County, Lafayette Ridge, which also has old growth, and an area near Downieville, important springs habitat, could be logged and roaded because they are less than the 5,000 acre minimum requirement set by the policy.

The Service Currently is developing a four-pronged approach to: 1) develop new ways to build roads; 2) remove some existing roads; 3) upgrade some existing roads; and 4) determine how to pay for the roads. The four goals, however, ignore the underlying direction for the policy provided by President Clinton when he stated, "the Forest Service is developing a scientifically based policy for managing roadless areas in our national forests. These last remaining wild areas are precious to millions of Americans and key to protecting clean water and abundant wildlife habitat, and providing recreation opportunities. These unspoiled places must be managed through science, not politics."

"The real test will come when the Administration completes its final policy," Vincent said. "If that policy is nothing more than a new way to build roads in our last unspoiled forests instead of affording those special places permanent protection, it will be an utter failure."

  Contact: Brian Vincent, California Organizer, American Lands Alliance, (530) 265-3506