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Road ruling should protect Sierra

Several environmental agencies concerned with the protection of the Sierra Nevada were pleased Thursday with the announcement that the Clinton administration ordered a halt to road construction in more than 33 million acres of national forests.

“The most damaged ecosystem in the Sierra is made up of the areas around streams – the aquatic ecosystem, which was made clear by the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project. And the SNEP report identified roads as the largest contributor, by far, of sediment to our streams,” said Laurel Ames, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. “As we learned at Lake Tahoe, roads continue to send tons of soil into our streams no matter how long they exist. Maintained roads are almost as bad as ones that are not taken care of because the cut slopes, fill slopes and ditches cannot resist the erosive power of rain and runoff.”

The administration issued an 18-month moratorium, which is expected to be a prelude to a much broader forest road management plan to be developed next year. The plan is supposed to be aimed at protecting the entire 191 million-acre federal forest system from unnecessary and damaging road construction.



”We are calling an official time out so we can examine the science, involve the public and build a road policy for the 21st century,” Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

The 33 million acres singled out by the U.S. Forest Service for the moratorium is spread across the country from the Southern Appalachians to the Chugach National Forest in Alaska.




Ames said the regulation would have no affect specifically on the Lake Tahoe Basin, but overall for the Sierra it is a very significant action.

Although pleased with the moratorium, Paul Spitler, executive director of the California Wilderness Coalition, was not fully satisfied with it.

“We need forest policy that will fully protect all of California’s wild lands from logging, road construction and off-road vehicle abuse,” Spitler said. “Unfortunately, this policy falls far short from that mark.”

Officials estimated that moratorium would prevent construction of about 360 miles of road and prevent the harvesting of 170 million to 260 million board feet of timber, less than 4 percent of annual timber harvests, during the 18 months.

“The Forest Service isn’t building that many new roads in the Sierra, but they could if they chose to,” Spitler said. “It’s pretty significant to enact a policy that is so widespread. I’m happy the administration is starting to pay attention to the public’s call for wilderness protection, but the plan is inadequate because it’s only a partial plan. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a small step.”

The U.S. Forest Service manages 191 million acres of forests and more than 400,000 miles of forest roads, many of which have been deteriorating because of increased recreational uses and lack of money for maintenance.

The Forest Service ban exempts most of the old growth federal forests in the Northwest that were the focus of a management plan to protect the spotted owl. And it does not cover the 16.7 million acre Tongass forest in Alaska, the largest federal forest.

Ames said the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a coalition of local and statewide grassroots groups working on natural resource protection projects throughout the mountain range, feels it is important to stop building new roads due to the damage already done.

“It will take millions of dollars to correct the damage to our streams and lakes from the silt and sediment that continues to discharge from existing roads,” she said. “It is certainly time to stop adding more sources of dirt for the rain to wash into the creeks.”

-The Associated Press contributed to this report

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