|"This could be one of the greatest conservation initiatives of the
That's what Mark Lawler, chair of the Sierra Club's Forest Reform
Campaign, said when U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck announced late last year that
the Clinton administration would impose a moratorium on roadbuilding in roadless areas in
When the specifics of the interim plan, including enough loopholes and
exclusions to drive a fleet of logging trucks through, were announced on Jan. 22, Lawler
continued to believe in the plan's potential.
"It all depends on how it's completed," he said. And that depends on a second
wave of letters, e-mails and other exhortations from wildlands advocates to persuade the
Clinton administration to close the loopholes.
Dombeck's proposed policy imposes an 18-month moratorium on roadbuilding in about 35
million acres of the approximately 50 to 60 million acres of unprotected roadless areas in
the national forests.
"This reprieve provides an opportunity to gain permanent protection for all of our
last remaining roadless areas," said Lawler. "But many critically important
places were left out."
The policy covers all "inventoried" roadless areas and all roadless areas of
1,000 acres or more that are adjacent to wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers and any
other federal lands that are roadless and larger than 5,000 acres.
But more than 15 million acres of roadless areas (29 of 120 national forests) were
excluded. Significant exemptions include the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, six
national forests in the central Appalachian region and the 19 national forests in
Washington, Oregon and Northern California covered by The President's Northwest Forest
Plan (Option 9), the forest management compromise Clinton crafted in 1994. The moratorium
also applies only to roadbuilding. It does not actually stop logging or other potentially
destructive activities, nor does it halt the planning of future timber sales in roadless
In the Pacific Northwest, said Lawler, hundreds of thousands of acres are excluded. One
of the forests at risk is Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where the Limbo
timber sale is already proceeding.
"This area is not protected under the interim plan for two reasons," said
Lawler. "First, it's an uninventoried area and, second, it's part of the Option 9
plan. Both were excluded in Dombeck's directive."
The Limbo sale allows roadbuilding in the 8,000- to 10,000-acre Paradise Roadless Area,
logging of 196 acres of old-growth habitat and the destruction of an active spotted owl
nesting site in one of the cutting units. The Paradise Roadless Area is within the Wind
River Key Watershed, one of the last strongholds for steelhead trout in the lower Columbia
In a letter to Dombeck, 24 organizations, including the Sierra Club, called attention
to the Limbo timber sale and urged him to protect that roadless area as well as "all
ecologically significant areas nationwide."
"Roadless areas are critical to the national forests because they are the last
undisturbed habitats for endangered and threatened fish and wildlife," said John
Leary, forest specialist in the Club's Washington, D.C., legislative office.
"Many of these forests are in steep, high-elevation terrain, where logging roads
can cause the most damage in the form of mudslides, erosion and silting of
The administration had already received more than 10,000 calls, most from Sierra Club
members, in the weeks preceding the Jan. 22 announcement, urging a policy that would
protect all roadless areas.
Day after day, callers filled Vice President Gore's voicemail until it was unable to take
The explicit reason for the moratorium is to give the Forest Service an
opportunity to study these lands for possible protection. While it takes an act of
Congress to preserve an area permanently as wilderness, the president can issue a
directive protecting these areas, though future presidents could overturn it.
"We thank the thousands of Club members who have already called to
influence the proposal," said Leary. "Now we have to get rid of the
"We have to pressure the Forest Service to use this moratorium to secure permanent
protection for the last undisturbed areas of our natural forests, not just to think up a
less destructive way of building roads into them next year."
To take action: There are two comment periods, one will help strengthen the new
temporary roadbuilding moratorium, and the other urges the Forest Service to permanently
protect these last, best places.
1. If you can get comments to the Forest Service by Feb. 27: Tell the agency that
opening a national dialogue on the value of unspoiled roadless areas is a positive step,
but the interim policy falls short. It should:
- Apply to all national forests, no exemptions;
- Prohibit logging and other destructive activities, as well as roadbuilding;
- Cover all roadless areas 1,000 acres or larger -- as recommended by many
independent forest scientists.
- Also say that the moratorium should lead to permanent protection for all national forest
roadless areas 1,000 acres or larger.
Send comments to:
Ecosystem Management Coordinator
U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, DC 20090-6090
2. Urge the Forest Service to permanently protect roadless areas. The 60-day comment
period on the Forest Service's long-term policy on logging roads and roadless areas
ends March 30.
Please copy and send the coupon below, or better yet, write your own letter (by March
Director of Engineering Staff
P.O. Box 96090,
Washington, DC 20090-6090.
For more information: Contact John Leary at (202) 675-2382; firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find the
full text of the proposed plan (and send comments) on the Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/news/roads.