Williams almost gets his wilderness

  Although Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., has never slipped a Montana wilderness bill past an unfriendly Senate, the White House has given him a temporary victory.

Williams announced Aug. 23 that an administrative order from Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman will stop development on 1.7 million acres of roadless national forest in Montana.

The order establishes a temporary moratorium on logging, mining and oil and gas leasing while directing the U.S. Forest Service to review its plans for the lands, which are all in the congressman's 1994 wilderness bill. The goal is to keep the lands intact, saving them for possible wilderness designation in the future. "This preserves the options," says John Gatchell of the Montana Wilderness Association.

Not all environmentalists agree. Hannah Stebbins of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies says the plan protects only a small portion of Montana's timber base - less than two-tenths of 1 percent by Williams' own estimation - and leaves 3.5 million acres of roadless forest areas not covered by the order open for salvage logging.

Nevertheless, the timber industry registered its disappointment with the decision. According to Carey Hegreberg of the Montana Wood Products Association, the federal order constitutes "an end-run attempt to circumvent public input."

* Shea Andersen

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