Logging slated for many roadless areas

 

The success of environmentalists in protecting what's left of the old-growth forests in the Northwest and Southwest means that logging corporations are often forced to look elsewhere.

So they have looked at Colorado and southern Wyoming, where, according to a coalition of more than 15 environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service plans in 1998 to allow more than double the logging that took place during the previous two years.

Fifteen proposed timber sales would remove 57.7 million board-feet of timber from 14,000 acres of roadless areas in national forests of the two states, with more than 2,000 acres to be clear-cut in four sales. About 80 miles of new roads would be built and about 60 miles of roads would be reconstructed, the groups said in an August letter to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck.

The Wyoming and Colorado groups are trying to halt the proposed sales. They have reminded Dombeck that during Senate hearings in February on his appointment to the Forest Service's top spot, he said that forest health must be protected, and that "it is simply common sense we avoid riparian, old-growth and roadless areas."

The groups have asked Dombeck to enact a moratorium on sales and road building in roadless areas.

"The timing of these sales is curious," said Ted Zukowski, a staff attorney with the Land and Water Fund. "There's a lot of new forest plans coming out. It makes me think they're trying to get these in before these areas can be protected as wilderness." Forest plans are issued every 10 to 15 years and incorporate public values to help guide the operation of national forests. Plans that have been completed incorporate protection for roadless areas, Zukowski said.

Forest Service spokesman Lynn Young said all the roadless areas in the proposed sales were released by the 1992 Colorado Wilderness bill. None of the sales puts new roads into the middle of roadless areas, he added.

Suzanne Jones, a regional associate with the Wilderness Society's Four Corners office, said that while the areas have been technically released, as roadless areas they still have to be treated as potential wilderness by the Forest Service, and that's not happening.

"Some of the areas do have enough wilderness characteristics to be formally designated," Jones said.

As for charges the Forest Service is doubling or tripling the cut, Young said comparisons year by year don't mean much. "These sales are part of a long-planned process and might or might not be sold in the next year. It sometimes takes 10 years to get a sale through the process," he said. "But the bottom line is that we are planning more sales this year than the past two years."

Environmental activists say a combination of factors has led to the logging proposed for Colorado and southern Wyoming. Mike McGowan of Ancient Forest Rescue cites appeals that have held up planned sales in the two states, plus recovery plans for the northern spotted owl and a court order that drastically reduced logging in the Southwest.

Matt Reedy, the executive director of the Western Forest Industry Council, said a ban on harvesting in roadless areas would worsen the situation: Colorado loggers are already facing too little timber to satisfy consumer demands.

An amendment to the Senate's Interior Appropriations bill to ban roads into roadless areas and cut the road-building budget was defeated 51-49 in mid-September, with Colorado's senators voting against it.

The cost of building roads to service timber sales has contributed to a loss of $11.2 million on Colorado's national forest timber sales in 1995, according to a Wilderness Society analysis. Even those targeted for wood production, as opposed to forest health issues, lost $4 million that year, Zukowski said.

The Forest Service counters that roads are assets because they allow for recreation and better access for fire-fighting, among other activities.

Ron Baird writes in Boulder, Colorado.

You can ...

* Contact Rocky Smith, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Denver, Colo. (303/837-8704), or Caroline Byrd, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Lander, Wyo. (307/332-7031), or,

* Contact the Rocky Mountain regional office of the Forest Service at 303/275-5350.

* Contact the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, 202/879-3188, which has a report on 67 pending timber sales on national forests, including 10 each in Idaho and Oregon, eight in California, four in Utah, three in Montana, and two each in Arizona and Washington.

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