Clinton Shuts Out
Loggers/Miners From
2/3 Of Remaining
US Wild Lands
By Catherine Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) - President Bill Clinton has directed the U.S. Forest Service to develop regulations that will permanently protect some 40 million acres of roadless National Forest lands. The proposal would more than double the wilderness land now protected from development, shutting out loggers and miners from about two-thirds of America,s remaining wild lands by banning the building of new roads.
Clinton,s executive order would set aside 20 percent of the total forest land in America's national forests - the largest chunk of land protected by Presidential decree since President Jimmy Carter safeguarded 103 million acres of wilderness in Alaska. In announcing the directive, Clinton said he hoped to continue the legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, who dedicated 120 million acres to national forests and created five national parks.
Roads cut through more than half of National Forest lands, making it harder for some species to survive (All photos courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
"Our Nation has not always honored President Roosevelt's vision," Clinton said today from the Reddish Knob Overlook in Virginia's George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. "Too often, we have favored resource extraction over conservation, degrading our forests and the critical natural values they sustain. As the consequences of these actions have become more apparent, the American people have expressed growing concern and have called on us to restore balance to their forests."
"With the new effort we launch today, we can feel confident that we have helped to fulfill and extend the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, and to ensure that the 21st century is indeed a new century for America's forests," Clinton concluded. Pinchot was the first U.S. Forest Service (USFS) chief, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Clinton,s directive orders the USFS to "develop, and propose for public comment, regulations to provide appropriate long term protection for most or all of these currently inventoried roadless areas, and to determine whether such protection is warranted for any smaller roadless areas not yet inventoried."
About 18 percent of the 192 million acre national forest system is currently off limits to road building and development. The Washington D.C. based Heritage Forest Campaign says another 31 percent has never been logged or mined, but is not currently protected. The Clinton plan would ban road building in about two-thirds of that land, or about 40 million acres.
Seeking to deflect attacks from the timber and mining industries, and from Republican Congress members, Clinton emphasized that his plan would include input from "all interested parties."
"In the final regulations," Clinton said, "the nature and degree of protections afforded should reflect the best available science and a careful consideration of the full range of ecological, economic, and social values inherent in these lands."
Some lawmakers say the president is exceeding his authority. Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, said in a statement, "These are not the King's lands, they are the serf's lands, they are the people's lands. We think they ought to come to the people's body to form and shape this kind of policy."
Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck will be charged with implementing Clinton's proposal
Thirty-eight western Republican Congress members sent a letter Tuesday to USFS Chief Mike Dombeck, stating, "We cannot stand by idly and watch our constituents lose the right to travel on the land they own."
"While the Forest Service might like this step backward to feudal European policies, it is completely unacceptable to us and those who use our public lands," the letter said.
With enough support in Congress, the western Republican coalition could find a way to block Clinton,s executive order.
Alaska,s Governor Tony Knowles, a Republican, promised today to take all possible steps to fight the President,s plan if it includes any part of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. "If the Tongass is included in a national roadless policy, I would consider this to be an outrage and a doublecross on the citizens of Alaska," Knowles said. "As governor, I would be compelled to do everything within my power to protect the families and communities of Southeast Alaska."
It is not clear whether or not the Tongass National Forest will be included in the roadless protection as no specific areas have yet been mapped out for inclusion under the plan.
"This initiative should have almost no effect on timber supply," Clinton said today. "Only five percent of our country's timber comes from the national forests. Less than five percent of the national forests' timber is now being cut in roadless areas. We can easily adjust our federal timber program to replace five percent of five percent, but we can never replace what we might destroy if we don't protect these 40 million acres."
Timber industry officials say the Clinton plan will not protect roadless areas, and may in fact harm some species.
View from Big Teseque, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
"We think it comes at an unfortunate time for forest health," Michael Klein, a spokesman for the American Forest & Paper Association, told ENS. "We respect his goal of a healthy productive forest. It,s our goal too. We just disagree on how to get there."
Klein quoted USFS statistics stating that 65 million acres of national forest lands are at high risk for catastrophic wildfires, disease and insect infestations. Timbering could control those problems, Klein says.
"It,s hard to make the jump that logging is healthy for a forest," Klein admits. "However, science just tells us that it is." For example, says Klein, "you,ve got a lot of species, such as moose and elk, that prefer wide open spaces. They prefer areas that have been clearcut. They prefer areas where a forest fire has gone through." Shutting 40 million acres to roads and development will make those areas unsuitable for some species, Klein says. "You don,t plant a garden and then build a wall around it and expect to have a beautiful garden."
Clinton intends to order a study of his plan's consequences, followed by a period of public comment, which will delay implementation of the road building ban by several months. But the White House intends to make the order permanent before the end of Clinton's presidency at the end of next year.
Environmental groups praised the plan as a crucial step toward protecting all remaining roadless forest areas.
"President Clinton is taking a great step to ensure future generations of Americans can enjoy healthy, productive forests," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "Roadless areas are the remaining remnants of our nation,s forest heritage and deserve permanent protection."
Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon
"This is truly a monumental moment in conservation and American history," said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "President Clinton should be thanked by us all today for his vision to create a natural legacy for future generations of Americans."
"President Clinton's announcement means that unprotected forest wilderness in the National Forests could be spared from any more scarring by industrial exploitation, " said Steve Holmer, campaign coordinator for the American Lands Alliance. "For this policy to be credible it must protect roadless areas in all national forests from logging, mining, roadbuilding and other damaging activities. These roadless areas are not only the last best place for wildlife, but also are a source of clean drinking water for tens of millions of Americans in more than 3,400 communities."
Roadless Forests May Prevent Extinctions
A new study from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Conservation Biology Institute, timed to coincide with Clinton,s announcement, finds that levels of forest protection across the U.S. are "far too low" to maintain many animal and plant species that are at risk of extinction.
The nation's first comprehensive assessment of protected areas found that the U.S. has set aside only five percent of its land in strict protection such as national parks, wilderness and monuments. Another five percent is protected as wildlife refuges and state parks, which allow logging and mining.
The Klamath River in Klamath National Forest, northern California
A key finding of the study is that the few remaining national forest areas without roads are essential to ensuring animal and plant survival. Using some of the most sophisticated mapping technology available, WWF and CBI scientists looked at outstanding forests such as the Klamath-Siskiyou forests of California and Oregon and the Southern Appalachians. They found that these regions contain large tracts of unprotected roadless areas that are threatened by road building and resource extraction.
Overall, the study found that forest protection across the nation varies widely from state to state. Most states east of the Mississippi River have protected less than one percent of their land area. The western U.S. has higher concentrations of protected areas, such as Alaska with 35 percent and California with 19 percent. But in these states most protected areas are high elevation rock and ice.
Nationwide, most protected areas average less than 10,000 acres - too small to maintain wildlife populations from the impacts of logging, mining, and encroaching development, the study says.
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