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information: questions and answers

Questions and answers about the October 1999 Clinton Announcement

What legal authority does the executive branch possess to take administrative action to establish protection of national forests roadless areas?

Various federal laws provide more than ample authority for executive action through the Secretary of Agriculture. Among them are the original grant from Congress in 1897, National Forest Management Act (NMFA), the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA). At least one set of Forest Service regulations creates a mechanism for the wholesale preservation of national forest lands natural values. Under these regulations the Forest Service Chief may classify lands as managed principally for recreation use substantially in their natural condition.

Generally, the opponents of this initiative will vehemently argue that the Administration has all the authority in the world to clearcut our forests but no authority to protect them.

Isnt this announcement a surprise to everyone, including the public and Congress?

This process has actually been underway since November 1997 when President Clinton directed the U.S. Forest Service to promulgate a science-based policy for national forest roadless area management. Since that time, there have been open houses in more than two dozen locations around the country. In February 1999, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman held a public press conference to implement an 18-month moratorium on new roadbuilding in 33 million acres of national forest roadless areas. The U.S. Forest Service states unequivocally on its Web site that a proposed rule on roadbuilding in roadless areas should be published in late 1999.

To date, the Clinton Administration has heard from 500,000 citizens who sent emails and postcards, more than 300 religious leaders, more than 200 scientists, 168 members of Congress, and 600 conservation organizations. The public is and has been fully engaged in this process from the beginning.

Isnt this going to hurt the nations timber companies?

Hardly. The national forests provide barely 4 percent of the nations total wood supply. Of that meager amount, the Forest Service estimates that only a fraction (about 4 percent of 54 percent) is likely to affected over the next two years by the roadbuilding moratorium. A permanent ban on roadbuilding and logging would have a minimal adverse impact on logging in the national forests. And, a majority of America's forests are privately owned (393 million acres), according to the Forest Service.

What is the economics of recreation versus logging?

In 1997, national forests accommodated more than 40% of all outdoor recreation use on public lands in the United States, according to the Forest Service. Recreational use in the national forest system is projected to increase from 729 million visitor-use-days in 1993 to 1.2 billion in 2040.

The Forest Service also states that recreation on the national forests has an important economic dimension. The agency estimates that by 2000, economic activity associated with national forest recreation, including wildlife and fish related activities such as viewing, hunting, and fishing, will generate $110.7 billion annually. In 1996, recreational fishing alone generated $8.5 billion worth of economic value. According to the U.S. Forest Services Recreation Strategy "the national forests and grasslands contribute $134 billion to the gross domestic product, with the lions share associated with outdoor recreation."

In contrast. logging on the national forests lost $111 million for the taxpayers in 1997, according to The Wilderness Society.

Wont protecting roadless areas harm forest health?

Roadless areas tend to be the healthiest parts of the national forests, according to a federal scientific study in 1997. They are healthy because they have experienced the least amount of disruption to their ecosystem. Roaded areas actually contribute to unhealthy forests because roads and industrial activity contribute to damage to watersheds and fish habitat, open the forests to invasions of non-native plant species, and provide access for poachers. Roadless areas are also least vulnerable to fire risk in part because they are generally found at higher elevations and have a track record of high intensity but low frequency fires. Roadless areas have been least affected by a century of fire suppression by the Forest Service.

Most of the attention in the "forest health" issue is being paid to fire, disease and insect damage, which are associated with areas of the national forest which have been heavily managed in the past and where logging, road-building and fire suppression have taken place.

Additionally, many serious forest health problems such as soil erosion, declining water quality, and habitat destruction are a direct result of road-building and logging.

Decades of fire suppression has indeed allowed some sections of the national forests to grow thicker and more flammable than would have otherwise occurred. Roadless areas, however, have been spared that type of management. Because they exist in an essentially natural state, they are the least in need of "restoration."

Logging actually makes the fire danger worse. Taking an upright tree, even a dead tree with its branches high above the ground, and felling it, branching it, hauling out the main trunk and leaving the top and all the branches on the ground makes a much more flammable situation than before logging.

Isnt this a lockup of the national forests?

Not in the least. Protected roadless areas, as opposed to clearcuts and oil and mining operations, will maintain critical habitat for many fish and wildlife species, protect key watersheds that are the source of clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and continue to provide unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation for the public. Hiking, camping, biking, and other outdoor activities in roadless areas are extremenly unlikely to be affected by a policy protecting roadless areas.

In addition, public sentiment is clearly overwhelmingly in favor of protecting roadless areas. A recent poll by the Mellman Group found that all Americans supported the Heritage Forests Campaigns roadless protection proposal (protect all roadless areas larger than 1000 acres on all national forests from logging, road building, mining and other destructive activities) by a four-to-one margin.

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