Clinton proclaims a far-reaching forest plan

  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.

But those 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 areas.

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

High Country News Classifieds