Hotly contested road plan won’t impact Tahoe
In October 1999, President Clinton proposed a plan to end construction of new roads on national forest land. The proposal, called the roadless initiative, is intended to establish guidelines for the future of road construction in certain roadless portions of forest land.
The proposed National Forest System rule and policy to end road construction in 43 million acres of forests nationwide was introduced by the U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck Tuesday, along with a draft of an environmental impact statement outlining the proposal.
“New roads pose the most immediate threat to the many social and ecological values of these areas,” Dombeck said.
The appropriate levels of management, protection and use of inventoried roadless areas – public lands exceeding 5,000 acres that met the minimum criteria for wilderness conservation under the Wilderness Act of 1964 – have been disputed for the last 25 years.
The issue has been hotly contested on a national level for the past year between environmentalists and loggers, but for the 46,000 acres of national forest land inside the Lake Tahoe Basin, little would change. In fact, only 4,000 additional acres would be prohibited from road construction by the draft prohibition. The remaining 42,000 acres is already managed as roadless.
“It’s a pretty innocuous proposal,” Linda Massey, public affairs officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit said. “(The plan) isn’t going to change a thing.”
The Tahoe Basin is already managed by the 1988 Forest Plan Direction and has the authority to make decisions regarding area forest land.
“We think any initiative that enhances our ability to preserve the fragile ecosystems of the Tahoe Basin…is a good thing,” Massey said.
More than 3 million acres of forest land in Nevada will be affected by the proposal which includes 22,000 acres in Douglas County southeast of Topaz Lake and near Monument Peak.
Several Douglas County residents have said the proposal would restrict public access to forest land despite federal officials’ claims that the proposed rule would not change current uses.
“Roadless areas would remain open for public use, access and recreation,” Dombeck said.
Areas that are now closed to these uses would remain closed.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners opposed the measure as it was written in March. Commissioners Bernie Curtis and Steve Weissinger said the plan was unreasonable and that the land belongs to the people.
Logging was not addressed by the Forest Service plan.
“(The Forest Service) has basically blown off the logging issues,” Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, a broad coalition of local, state and national environmental groups pushing the forest protection initiative.
The California Wilderness Coalition reported that in 1999, 1,700,000 trees were cut in unprotected roadless areas in which roads were banned.
“The American people support the vision that President Clinton articulated in October. What the Forest Service has delivered is a proposal with log truck-sized loopholes,” Rait said.
The Forest Service has historically viewed itself as a servant of the timber industry, Rait said.
Paul Spitler, executive director of the California Wilderness Coalition, applauded the Forest Sevice plan as a step in the right direction, but said the plan is fraught with timidity because it fails to mention logging.
“Our wild roadless lands are vanishing before our very eyes and without immediate action, many of these areas may be lost forever,” Spitler said in a statement, adding that the Forest Service should prohibit logging in roadless areas.
However, industry groups also complained, saying the proposal limits their access to forests. ”It’s another step toward zero harvest,” said Jim Geisinger, president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, Ore.
The forest protection plan requires no congressional action, relying on regulations to be issued by the Forest Service after an environmental review and public comments.
The proposal could gain final approval at the end of the year, just before President Clinton leaves office. But environmentalists expect Republicans in Congress to try to delay the rulemaking until after Clinton’s term. Court challenges from industry groups are likely.
The Forest Service proposed action contains three elements.
-Prohibition on Road Building – The proposed rule would prohibit new road building or reconstruction in the unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas on forest system lands.
-Procedures – The proposal would also create procedures for use during the forest plan revision process requiring local managers to evaluate the quality and importance of roadless characteristics and determine whether and how to protect roadless characteristics in the context of multiple-use objectives.
Area managers would follow the procedures and encourage public involvement as part of the revision process to make decisions about what activities, such as recreation, timber harvest and grazing would be appropriate in inventoried roadless areas and other unroaded areas.
-Tongas National Forest in Alaska – A decision on whether to prohibit road construction in inventoried roadless areas in the Tongas rain forest would be postponed until the five-year forest plan review scheduled for April, 2004.
To learn more about the roadless initiative
What: Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Draft Environmental Impact Statement Public Meetings.
May Informational Meetings:
May 24, 7-9 p.m. at El Dorado County Library, 1000 Rufus Allen Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe.
May 25, 7-9 p.m. at No. Tahoe Conference Center, 8318 No. Lake Boulevard, Kings Beach.
June Formal Public Comment Meetings:
June 21, 7-9 p.m., at El Dorado County Library.
June 22, 7-9 p.m., at No. Tahoe Conference Center.
Contact: Linda Massey, public affairs officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. 530-573-2688.
Web site: http://roadless.fs.fed.us
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