Clinton roadless plan won’t have major local impact
Logging and road building, now forbidden on nearly 58.5 million acres of National Forest Service land by the signing of the Roadless Initiative, is drawing both concern and accolades.
“This is truly a historic time,” said Tina Andolina, a conservation associate with the California Wilderness Coalition.
Signed last week by President Clinton, the national decision affects over one million acres in the Sierra Nevada and 48,000 acres in the Tahoe Basin. Close to 50 percent of the Tahoe Basin’s forest land is designated roadless, but forest service officials don’t report a big change in management.
“Road building is already restricted in the roadless areas in the Tahoe Basin,” said Robert McDowell, natural resources deputy for the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, in an interview in June.
Because of the environmental sensitivity of the lake, forest service officials say they are well ahead of the national initiative with a few exceptions.
Alpine Meadows Ski Area boarders a roadless area and the Granite Chief Wilderness, meaning expansion for the ski area will be difficult, if not impossible.
“If we were to add a chair lift in Ward Valley, we would build it with a helicopter,” said Alpine Meadows President Kent Hoopingarner.
The signing of the initiative is considered a large victory for wildlife habitat and water quality but shadowed by talk of legal battles.
“This roadless protection – there is already talk of overturning it,” said Andolina.
U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has been public in his fight to overturn the Roadless Initiative.
“This rule-making decision has left out the public, the state government and the Congress from its development, and has been prejudiced from its very inception. I am confident the courts will issue an injunction and declare this rule-making initiative illegal under the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. I don’t believe it is possible to develop a comprehensive and quality Environmental Impact Statement, as the law requires, that spans over 50 million acres and more than thirty states in this short amount of time,” said Craig in a Jan. 5 press release.
But others believe legal battles will be unsuccessful.
“I don’t think they will be successful,” said Andolina.
Actually, said Andolina, the California Wilderness Coalition, would like to see the protection of the roadless areas go one step further.
“We would definitely like to see these protected as wilderness,” she said.
But to get an area declared wilderness takes Congressional approval.
“The permanency (of the land) is also protected,” said Andolina.
But others believe Clinton is setting aside too much land.
“It’s a never ending battle,” said Larie Trippet, a North Lake Tahoe resident concerned with National Forest Access.
According to Trippet, a trend has arisen limiting access to public lands.
“Where is the lumber going to come from to support our nation?” said Trippet. “We need some of the land to produce goods for our nation.”
One of the biggest changes from the Draft Roadless Initiative, which received over 1.6 million comments from the public, was the ban on road building and logging in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
Originally the draft of the Roadless Initiative decided to hold off the decision on the Tongass National Forest until the five-year forest plan review, scheduled for April 2004 was completed. The draft stated the Tongass’ economy relied heavily on logging.
“That was definitely one of the greatest victories,” said Andolina about the decision to implement Alaska into the initiative as well.
But all logging won’t be completely banned – just commercial logging.
According to the new initiative, logging is permitted if there is a risk of uncharacteristic fire and roads could be built to do this if public safety is threatened.
“We’d have to weigh public safety against resource protection. Public safety always prevails,” said Linda Massey, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
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