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Roadless Area Alert!

Well, it's out! And it is either a huge disappointment or a huge disappointment...depending on who you read. More on that later.

Of course, we are talking about the third major roadless review/initiative since 1970 (see The LYNX 4/00, 2/00, 12/99).The 500+ page, two volume Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and proposed rulemaking is out, and public comments are due July 17.

The DEIS harbors three sets of alternatives; four prohibition (action) alternatives, four procedural alternatives, and four Tongass National Forest (AK) alternatives. The prohibition alternatives simply determine activities that are prohibited in unroaded areas. The procedural alternatives require forest managers to evaluate all roadless areas and determine how to protect them beyond this DEIS. The Tongass alternatives deal specifically with Alaska s Tongass National Forest. So what does the DEIS propose?

The preferred prohibition alternative (#2) proposes to end all road construction and reconstruction in unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas. So, what is an unroaded portion of an inventoried roadless area? Inventoried roadless areas were identified in RARE II (1980) or in ongoing forest plan revisions (i.e. the Wasatch [~600,000 acres] and Ashley [~800,000 acres] National Forests have produced new roadless inventories for the Uintas) and the unroaded portions are areas still unroaded in those roadless areas. That amounts to 43 million acres nationally. There are other roadless areas that were not properly inventoried in 1980.

The preferred procedural alternative (B) requires forest managers to evaluate all roadless areas in the revised forest planning process and determine their value and whether/how to protect them beyond the road construction/reconstruction prohibition.

The preferred Tongass Alternative (T3) holds the decision to prohibit road construction in roadless areas until 2004 and would make that decision through a review of the forest plan.

In other words, this DEIS and proposed rulemaking does not preclude timber harvesting in roadless areas--it simply ends road building. (Alternative #4 ends logging in roadless areas.) It has no impact on all terrain or off road vehicles or snowmobiles. Those decisions would be made in the revised forest plan. It does not preclude no surface occupancy oil/gas leasing. Extant contractual obligations must be met.

Helicopter logging could continue and is proposed, for example, on portions of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. It is unlikely helicopter or skyline logging could ever occur on the Uintas. And, of course, the decision to postpone the Tongass an alysis is a real blow since the Tongass is so large (8.5 million acres of roadless lands) and so unique/wild. It is, of course, where a bulk of the timber proposed for harvesting exists--thus its delay.

Fire suppression activities would not be affected as the DEIS clearly notes that the majority of fires occur in areas already roaded and where extensive management activities such as roaded recreation and timber harvesting have already occurred. The proposal would allow roads to be temporarily constructed to protect public health and safety.

The DEIS notes that nationally in the next 5 years only about 7% of the timber volume will come from roadless areas. The analysis shows that the proposed alternative "would reduce timber offer on these lands by 73%." But because the Tongass roadless areas are not protected over the next 5 years, the actual reduced timber offer is 27%-- the vast majority of timber volume in roadless areas will come from the Tongass.

On the Wasatch and Ashley only 2 million board feet of timber was proposed to be sold from roadless areas in the next 5 years and the communities most affected by these sales are determined to have medium to high economic resiliency, meaning their economies are diversified enough not to feel significant impacts from the road prohibitions.

Dick Carter

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