Voters Say "Yes" to National Forest Protection
They've remained untouched by chainsaw or ax for generations, but the permanent fate of America's last wild forests may be decided by the U.S. Forest Service within the next 90 days.
Eleven New State Polls Show Widespread Support for 'Roadless' Initiative
WASHINGTON - Apologists for the timber industry argue that a Forest Service initiative to stop new road construction and logging in large, currently roadless areas of wild forest is part of a 'plot' to keep the public out of public lands. But 11 state polls conducted in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon suggest the American people aren't buying that message.
In Wisconsin, for example, when voters were told exactly how much National Forest land was at stake in the roadless initiative, and that such land would still be open for hunting, camping and fishing, support for the Forest Service roadless initiative soared to 88 percent.
"What the polls make clear is that the roadless initiative is more popular than most politicians," said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, a broad coalition of local, state and national environmental groups pushing the forest protection initiative. We've heard a lot of noise from a handful of politicians indebted to timber and mining interests, but the real story is that the opposition to this initiative is like a Hollywood western town: one board thick with nothing but the desert behind it."
Rait and other environmental experts note that only 5 percent of U.S. timber production is cut on National Forest land and that less than 5 percent of the 40 to 60 million acres of currently roadless forest is suitable for logging. The Forest Service itself estimates that recreation on National Forest land generates 30 times more economic growth than timber sales.
Public opinion polls suggest roadless area protection is tremendously popular across the political and geographic spectrum. A recent poll by respected Republican pollster Linda DiVall found 62 percent of Republicans -- and two-thirds of those living in western states -- support an administration proposal to protect roadless areas in our National Forests. To date over a half a million citizens have made public comments to the Forest Service about the proposal -- most of them supportive.
A new round of public meetings and comments is expected to begin in May following the release of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Whatever shape the final plan takes, Rait and others suggest it must meet five key criteria to provide real and lasting protection for our nation's remnant wildernesses: 1) safeguard all National Forests, without loopholes, exemptions or waivers, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska; 2) permanently and immediately halt road building, logging, mining, off-road vehicle use and other harmful activities in all roadless forests; 3) protect all roadless areas of at least 1,000 acres in all National Forests; 4) institute a moratorium on all development in and damaging use of wild forests until they are permanently protected; and 5) be based on sound science rather than short-term political considerations.
"The future of our best wild forests will be determined in the next 90 days," said Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, an environmental group working on the forest initiative. "The current debate is about whether we are going to continue to allow special interests to profit from the destruction of our last remaining wild forest lands -- lands vital to the recreational interests of hunters, anglers, campers and birdwatchers."
Jim Scarantino, executive director of Republicans for Environmental Protection (www.repamerica.org), said he was not surprised to find overwhelming support for the Forest Service's roadless initiative. "Preserving the last of the best is not a Republican vs. Democrats issue, it's not an East vs. West issue, it's not a soccer-mom vs. hunter issue; it's a question of what we want to leave for our children and grandchildren to come. With so much already gone, the conservative approach is to conserve what little remains."
Complete Poll Results with questions, methodology and results are available online.
A summary of the Summary of State Poll Results On the National Forest "Roadless" Forest Initiative and a Summary of Recent Polls on National Forest Protection are available as .pdf files here.
Real People, Real Experts: Whether you are looking for an expert on forest fire prevention, data on the economics of recreation in our national forests, or an analysis of big timber's political contributions, we can help you pull your story together. Whether you are looking for an expert on forest fire prevention, data on the economics of recreation in our National Forests, or an analysis of big timber?s political contributions, we can help you pull your story together. Call Patrick Burns at the Heritage Forests Campaign (202-861-2242, ext. 3004).