Forest Service Roadless Plan Falls Short of President Clinton's Vision

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Public Forests Still At Risk

(05/09/2000) - On the heels of today’s release of a U.S. Forest Service Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), Defenders of Wildlife cautioned that while the process for protecting millions of acres of National Forest lands has been advanced, the results as currently proposed fall far short of the public’s expectations and President Clinton’s vision. The group noted that although the potential for an effective plan is there, it must be substantially revised through the public comment process this summer.

Last October, the President directed the Forest Service to devise an innovative way to manage publicly owned forests in the United States. That visionary directive could protect up to 60 million acres of forest and more than double the forest acreage that is off-limits to development.

"The DEIS released by the Forest Service today is halfway to where Americans want it to be," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Americans overwhelmingly support increased protection for our national forests and the ecosystems within them, but this plan goes only half the distance. The public comment process this summer is going to be vital in helping to make this one of the most important conservation measures of the last 100 years."

Defenders charges that the new DEIS does not prevent logging in national forests included in the plan and excludes protection for Tongass National Forest in Alaska. While no new roads would be built in national forest areas, both commercial and "forest health" logging could continue. Forest health logging accounts for more than 65 percent of all logging on national forest lands. Defenders contends that the other methods of logging used in roadless areas, including helicopter removal and bulldozing, can be even more harmful than traditional logging. In addition, all of Tongass National Forest would be exempted from the new plan. Considered to be the crown jewel of the national forest system, the Tongass is the largest remaining reserve of old-growth coastal temperate rainforest in the world. The Tongass is also the largest expanse of wildlands currently slated for development.

"In order to measure up to President Clinton’s vision, the Forest Service must adhere to the will of the American people and include the Tongass and prohibit all logging in what little is left of our wild forests," said Schlickeisen. "This one should be a no-brainer. Republicans and Democrats, men and women, hunters and animal-rights supporters, easterners and westerners -- practically everyone supports the initiative to strengthen our forest management policy. The plan, as written now, is too weak."

More than 80 percent of the 192 million acres of national forests is currently open to roadbuilding, logging, mining and other forms of development. More than half of the public forests in the United States have already been industrialized. 433,000 miles of roads have been cut through these forests, primarily to provide access for logging companies.

Now that the DEIS has been released, the public will be allowed to comment on the proposal at any of more than 400 public meetings until July 17. The Forest Service is expecting unprecedented public comment, as polls show that three out of four people support more forest protection.

"It seems that the Alaska Congressional delegation was successful in persuading the administration to exclude the Tongass and to allow logging to continue in ecologically vital areas of our national forests," said Schlickeisen. "But if the people make their voices heard in the more than 400 public hearings on this most important measure, the plan can be changed to reflect a strong, sensible plan to ensure the long-term sustainability of our wild forests and the wildlife they support."

Defenders of Wildlife, founded in 1947, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270