Discuss forest roadless decision rationally

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The comments of the governor's office and our legislators in regards to the Forest Service's roadless policy lead me to conclude that they haven't bothered to read the rule or the comments on it by conservation organizations, scientists, or anyone but the Alaska Forestry Association (AFA). If they had, I believe the governor's office wouldn't have been making such false statements.

When Bob King, speaking on behalf of the governor, says the rule is based on little or no science, he is mistaken. The fact is that the science studies are there to be read by anyone who cares to do so. Indeed, one of the reasons the Tongass has been included immediately in the roadless rule, instead of four years from now, are the comments submitted by resource managers and biologists, many of them past or present employees of the Forest Service, who advocated for its immediate inclusion. I would suggest the governor at least read the letter written to the Forest Service by 73 of the agency's resource managers, the letter to President Clinton signed by 330 scientists, many of whom were involved in working on the Tongass Land Use Management Plan (TLUMP), and the National Marine Fisheries Service's comments on the roadless Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

A second instance of misstatement is the often-repeated claim that there was inadequate public process in forming the rule. I can only wonder where these people have been. Suffice it to say that more hearings were held and more comments received on the roadless policy during the last two years than any other Forest Service process in the history of that agency. The fact that the result changed at each stage of the rule-making process, from total non-inclusion of the Tongass, to immediate inclusion, is a result of the process being an open and public one. It a case of where the Forest Service actually took into account what the public, including many Alaskans, asked for, and what most resource experts recommended. It is not a betrayal of the state of Alaska or of the TLUMP planning process.

The third of these oratorical whiffle balls being thrown at the public is that the roadless rule creates more wilderness areas and hence is illegal under the "no more clause" of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The rule does not create any new conservation units, but rather preserves existing conditions in National Forest roadless areas for the length of the rule. Citizens will have the same access rights for hunting, fishing, subsistence, and recreation under the rule, as they had before it. Community transportation projects that qualify for federal highway funds are not prohibited under the rule. Rights of access to existing mining claims and other private property in roadless areas are likewise un-changed. So when the governor directed the attorney general to file a suit under ANILCA's "no more clause," it may have been smart politics, but ultimately I believe it will turn out to be a waste of taxpayer money.

If the governor and our legislators are going to oppose the roadless rule, that is one thing. Basing their arguments on AFA fiction, however, is another. If they believe that the taxpayer-subsidized logging jobs generated by roadless area timber cutting, ($64,000 per job, per year), is worth more than the economic, environmental and social benefits derived from the uncut forest, than they should say so and be done with it. That at least would put the discussion on a rational basis where the actual merits of the rule could be debated.

Mark Rorick chairs the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.

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