Forest Service will protect roadless areas for public

History has it that Teddy Roosevelt, along with Gifford Pinchot, designed the national forest system while mulling over maps of the country. Some stories even have Roosevelt and Pinchot spreading the maps on the White House floor. The creation of the national forest system was a definite legacy for Roosevelt, a Republican with a soft spot for the environment.

It’s unlikely Bill Clinton spent much time scrutinizing maps on the White House carpet while examining our country’s roadless areas policy. This time the credit goes to U.S. Forest Service officials for listening to the people and coming up with a plan that guards some our nation’s pristine forest lands.

The plan, if adopted next month, will forbid commercial logging on nearly 60 million acres of roadless forest areas including, much to the delight of environmental organizations, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Although some are unhappy that the Tongass won’t be included in the plan until 2004, the Forest Service’s overall proposal is something Americans, including Washingtonians, should be happy with.

Taxpayers save money by not having to foot the bill for the construction of logging roads and benefit from the environmental advantages that go beyond simply preserving a bunch of old trees — namely clean water, clean air and preserving the salmon.

The proposal provides protection for 1.8 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in Washington, said Jon Owen with the Washington Wilderness Coalition. That includes areas in Snohomish County and nearby such as Barclay Lake and Eagle Lake east of Sultan and some lands between Darrington and Granite Falls.

The plan, however, still doesn’t address the nearly 1.8 million acres of unroaded Forest Services areas that haven’t officially been recognized as roadless in our state. That’s a concern Owen and others still have. They’re also worried about the Tongass not being protected until 2004. A lot can happen in four years, Owen said.

"Are we going to have anything left to protect"? he asked.

In the two or three weeks before a final decision is announced, Owen and others will also push the Forest Service to more clearly define the term "stewardship logging." As is, the plan allows for such logging to protect the land from intense forest fires and infestations. But the wording could allow for some major logging loopholes, Owen said.

Such concerns and efforts on the part of environmental groups are legitimate but should not detract from the overall proposal the Forest Service has put forth. Forest officials deserve praise for organizing dozens or more public meetings across the nation to get public input and feedback. And they sifted through more mail than the hottest movie star.

That kind of effort and hard work ranks right up there with hunching over maps on the White House floor.

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