President Clinton made headlines Oct. 13, when he announced a sweeping initiative to protect 40-60 million acres of unroaded national forests. At a ceremony in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Clinton put his full support behind permanent protection for land currently covered by an 18-month road-building moratorium, in addition to roadless areas in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska's Tongass National Forest (HCN, 4/27/98).
"The scale of this is enormous," says
Ken Rait with the Oregon-based Heritage Forests Campaign. "Clinton
got up on the podium today and hit a grand slam."
The president called the plan "one of the
largest land preservation efforts in America's history." He
belittled criticism from Western Republicans, who said it will
topple the timber industry. Only 5 percent of the nation's timber
cut comes from national forests, he said, and less than 5 percent
of that comes from roadless areas.
numbers disguise reality in Western states, according to Stefany
Bales, spokeswoman for the Intermountain Forest Association
(formerly Intermountain Forest Industry Association) in Coeur
d'Alene, Idaho. She said 74 percent of Idaho's forest lands are
federally owned, and half of those are roadless. "This undoes all
that," Bales says. "For a lot of people who thought we had this
resolved, this is a real slap in the face."
However, John McCarthy, staffer with the Idaho
Conservation League, says in Idaho, the Forest Service continues to
plan for 90 sales that involve some cutting in roadless
Chris Wood, assistant to Forest Service
Chief Michael Dombeck, says while any future timber cutting in
roadless areas is unlikely, Clinton's pronouncement cancels no
scheduled sales. If the sales involve helicopter logging or gaining
access by existing roads, Wood says, they won't be affected. Before
the agency releases a final rule in late 2000, it will complete an
environmental impact statement and hold town hall meetings across
the country and a 60-day public comment period.
"The president asked the Forest Service to have
an open and public dialogue with the American people," Wood says.
"This just starts the process."
Some say the
dialogue won't be civil. "There's going to be a fight," says Ken
Rait. "And I predict (timber companies) are not only going to lose,
but they're going to get their nose bloodied."
* Greg Hanscom