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December 1999 Planet Main
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The Planet

Wild Forest Protection Plan

How the Roadless Plan Hits Home

by Jenny Coyle

How are forest activists across the country taking the news of President Clinton's roadless area plan?

Personally, that's how.

To the average citizen, "roadless areas" may sound vague. But to Club activists like Mark Pearson and Gordon Smith, who have been fighting to protect some of these wildlands, they are special treasures.

"Everyone is jazzed by the president's proposal and we're ready to devote a ton of energy generating a lot of public comment in favor of it," said Pearson, a Rocky Mountain (Colorado) Chapter member who has been involved in numerous efforts to protect wildlands. He's also chair of the Club's national Wildlands Campaign Committee.

Pearson said Colorado's 150,000-acre Hermosa roadless area - the largest roadless area in the southern Rockies - is the perfect example of a wildland that could be protected by the plan.

"Hermosa has the best pockets of old-growth ponderosa pine in the San Juan Mountains," he said. "It's been a focus of our attention for 25 years. A greater level of protection might mean we don't have to keep filing appeals, holding rallies and sending in postcards to fight off timber sales, new roads, mineral-leasing proposals and ski-area expansions."

Colorado's highest peak, 14,433-foot Mt. Elbert, is part of a 19,000-acre roadless area that is not protected from destructive activities despite its recreation values, said Pearson. "Most of the mountain is above the timberline, but below that is lodgepole pine that should be placed off-limits to logging."

Meanwhile, Alaska activists say they'll work hard to see that the Tongass National Forest is included in the roadless area study.

"It's great to see the administration and the Forest Service taking the lead to protect these pristine places. Some of Alaska's most productive salmon runs are in roadless areas," said Scott Anaya, a forest activist in the Alaska Chapter and a member of the national Wildlands Campaign Committee. "But there's no scientific reason to exclude the Tongass. It's just political."

In Minnesota, where logging for pulp on national forests has tripled since 1975, activist Clyde Hanson of the North Star Chapter is hopeful that the plan will create a protective buffer around the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

"Right now they're logging right up to the border of Boundary Waters, almost as a political statement," said Hanson. "Some of the logging sites are visible from within the wilderness, and you can hear the trucks. That really impacts the wilderness experience, and the wildlife that live there. We've been telling the Forest Service to stop managing for timber harvest and start managing for recreation. Maybe with this new proposal we have a chance."

A similar approach - letting a roadless area serve as a buffer zone - could also benefit the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area in North Carolina.

Gordon Smith, the Sierra Club's representative on the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, said there are several roadless areas ranging in size from 3,000 to 7,000 acres that could enhance the wilderness area if protected under Clinton's plan.

The coalition has made it a priority to educate the public about these areas.

"Some of the wilderness areas are overused," he said. "The roadless areas aren't as well known and the Forest Service doesn't sign them as well or maintain the trails. We've produced brochures including a trail map and narrative in order to encourage people to hike in the roadless areas in Pisgah National Forest."

Grizzly bears could benefit if roadless areas in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho) were given stronger protections, said Jennifer Ferenstein, a Montana activist and national Sierra Club Board member.

She said the 100,000-acre Great Burn roadless area links the Northern Rockies to the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem, providing a migratory corridor for the bears. "But it's threatened by proposals for logging and off-road vehicle use," said Ferenstein. "The plan must protect this key grizzly bear habitat."

Mark Lawler, National Forest Committee chair for the Cascade (Washington) Chapter, said the plan would also aid wildlife in Washington's 150,000-acre Meadows Roadless Area, home of the largest lynx population in the Lower 48.

"It's really something to have this kind of initiative taken by a sitting president in my lifetime," said Lawler. "We need to seize this opportunity and push for the strongest possible stance from the White House."

 


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