Clinton initiative could impact local forest
Presentation of President Clinton’s roadless forest initiative Monday night in Glenwood Springs drew only tepid comment from an audience of more than 100.
But if the initiative goes forward as proposed, it could mean the end of motorized vehicle use, mining and timber harvesting on two-thirds of the White River National Forest.
If enacted, the roadless policy could protect areas of the national forest in the same way as a wilderness designation does, but without approval by Congress.
But White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle said the intent of the roadless initiative is not to create more wilderness. “It’s not a wilderness initiative. It’s about leaving more areas roadless,” she said.
In an analysis for the revised White River National Forest plan – a separate process from the roadless initiative – 642,000 acres of roadless areas have been identified. Of that, 300,000 acres are earmarked as potential wilderness areas.
But that area within the White River could increase if the new policy directs the Forest Service to consider roadless areas of 1,000 acres in size. The forest-plan analysis identified areas of 5,000 acres or more.
If the initiative becomes national policy, the roadless areas, combined with 750,000 acres of wilderness in the White River, will constitute about two-thirds of the White River National Forest.
The initiative would impact about 50 million acres of National Forest lands in Colorado, Alaska, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Colorado alone has 3 million acres of designated roadless areas.
The initiative grew out of a 18-month moratorium on construction of new roads in roadless areas of the national forests issued by the Forest Service in March of this year. That move effectively prohibited timber harvesting.
Public responses to the moratorium favored protecting roadless areas in order to protect wildlife, contain clean water and offer a variety of recreational opportunities.
Finances are also a consideration in the roadless initiative. According to Ketelle, the Forest Service receives only 20 percent of the $8.4 billion needed annually to maintain a huge backlog of roads on the National Forest that need attention.
Clinton’s proposed initiative also contains vague language that would limit or prohibit uses in roadless areas that could impact ecological and social values. That could mean mountain bikers and snowmobilers could no longer use roadless areas.
An environmental impact study considering alternatives for roadless area management will be prepared, with a draft due out this spring and the final document in the fall of 2000.
Locally, the public had its first chance to view what could be a national roadless area policy at a public meeting Monday night at the First Choice Inn in Glenwood Springs.
The roadless initiative stands in sharp contrast to the revised forest plan, a four-year process that also involves an Environmental Impact Statement. The revised forest plan would allow limited timber harvesting and motorized vehicles in roadless areas. But the new roadless policy could prohibit logging, mining and all non-motorized travel, including snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and perhaps, mountain bikes.
The public comment period for the forest plan was recently extended for an additional 90 days. The final EIS is due out in 2001.
A separate public comment period was triggered Oct. 19 when Clinton directed the Forest Service to prepare an EIS to craft a national policy for managing roadless areas. The 60-day period ends Dec. 20. Ketelle defended the short time period, saying her office did not receive the directive to initiate the EIS process until a week before Thanksgiving. Then letters and press releases were mailed out and the meeting was scheduled for Monday night.
“We understand the shortness of the time frame,” she said.
Public comments will be used to build the policy alternatives analyzed by the EIS, including a no-action alternative.
Citizens Monday night objected to the short time period for comment, saying the agency and administration are “fast-tracking” the initiative without leaving sufficient time for public review and comment.
The public will have another opportunity to comment when the draft EIS is issued in the spring.
Citizens also complained the Forest Service was not giving them enough to formulate a comment. “Sometimes it seems awkward if you’re used to reacting to something,” Ketelle said.
A fleshed-out policy will be issued in the draft EIS in the spring.
Comments can be mailed to the White River National Forest, 900 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601. Comments from folks across the country are being collected and analyzed by a Forest Service group in Salt Lake City. To be included in the national group, send comments to: USDA Forest Service, ATTN: Roadless NOI, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122.
Information about the roadless initiative is available on a Web site at roadless.fs.fed.us.
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