Hundreds of logging trucks and busloads of protesters circled downtown Missoula, Mont., June 21 to rail against the Forest Service's proposal to protect 43 million acres of its roadless forests.
About 2,000 people from all corners of western Montana joined a barbecue and rally sponsored by the timber and off-road-vehicle industries. Loggers and millworkers say closing roadless areas to future road building will put them out of work, while ORV riders want access into the areas.
"These Clinton-Gore mandates do not recognize the value of our rural communities," St. Ignatius rancher Alan Mikkelsen told the crowd. Later, hard-hatted pallbearers deposited a pine coffin in the lobby of the hotel where the Forest Service was holding a meeting. The coffin read, "R.I.P. Clinton-Gore Roadless Initiative."
Inside the hotel, 700 residents gathered to give the agency comments on the plan. The overwhelming majority spoke in favor of the rule, first proposed by President Clinton last October (HCN, 11/8/99: A new road for the public lands). "We're blowing it," said audience member Lynda Lee, pointing to a map of the 6 million acres of remaining roadless areas scattered across Montana. "There isn't much left."
The Forest Service has scheduled 300 meetings on the plan. For a schedule, or to read the draft environmental impact statement on the roadless area initiative, see roadless.fs.fed.us, or write to USDA Forest Service-CAET, Attention Roadless Area Proposed Rule, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122.