Residents back ban on roads

Most at meeting call for protection of roadless area in Tongass forest

Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Reacting to the proposed exemption of the Tongass National Forest from a policy protecting roadless areas in forests, Richard Gard of Juneau tried a spin on a famous Winston Churchill expression.

``Never before have so many been asked to sacrifice so much for the benefit of so few,'' Gard testified Monday during a U.S. Forest Service hearing on the roadless policy.

Like the vast majority of 62 people who entered comments into the official record at the Juneau hearing, Gard said allowing road-building in currently pristine areas of the Tongass would serve only the timber industry, while damaging one of the few prime pieces of wilderness left on the planet.

Monday's public comment session at Centennial Hall was the first of 13 being held in Southeast in the next few weeks. The next ones take place in Hoonah and Ketchikan on Thursday evening.

The Forest Service, acting on a directive from President Clinton, has completed a draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule that would permanently ban roads in 43 million of 54 million acres that are currently inventoried as roadless. A final EIS and rule are expected this fall.

Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck announced last month that he's proposing to exempt the Tongass from that rule because of a legal requirement that the agency try to meet the regional market demand for timber.

Also, Dombeck said the recent Tongass Land Management Plan, which is supposed to guide land-use decisions in the 16.6-million acre forest, should be given a chance to work. At the mid-point of the 10-year plan, in 2004, the Forest Service could take another look at the 8.5 million acres of roadless areas in the Tongass, he said.

But Pat Veesart of Juneau said, especially as it applies to the Tongass, the roadless policy amounts to a ``timber welfare program.'' He faulted the policy for not including the Tongass, not explicitly banning logging in all roadless areas nationwide and for not protecting areas under 5,000 acres.

Holding her toddler daughter in her arms, Patti Rorick of Juneau said: ``She needs a forest that's worth inheriting.''

Jack Phelps, executive director of the Ketchikan-based industry group the Alaska Forest Association, wasn't perturbed this morning by news that comments in Juneau were lopsided against the industry.

``I heard that -- and I'm really surprised,'' Phelps joked. ``It's been a long time since Juneau's been a supportive community for our industry. With a few exceptions, places like Gustavus and Sitka, I would expect that in other places in Southeast there will be more pro-development attitudes being expressed.''

One of the few voices in favor of the Tongass exemption in Juneau came from Randy Wanamaker, a board member of Goldbelt, the Juneau Native corporation. He was representing the Berners Bay Consortium and the Tlingit-Haida Community Council, as well.

Wanamaker said that the roadless policy, if applied here, could conflict with the corporation's rights under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, by limiting access through roadless areas to ANCSA-conveyed land.

``The goal has merit -- the protection of ecosystems,'' Wanamaker said today. ``It's how you achieve it that matters a lot. ... A policy sometimes becomes imposed in areas they weren't meant to be imposed. We've seen it over and over again.''

Phelps, the timber industry spokesman, said that the roadless policy already violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act by its immediate inclusion of the Chugach National Forest in Southcentral. Under the act, no more land was supposed to be set aside from possible development, he said.

And the exclusion of the Tongass is merely temporary, he said. ``At the very best, it's somewhat of a reprieve. Secondly, this is only a damned draft.''

Phelps sees the issue as colored by the presidential campaign. ``It's a political ploy to make Mr. Gore do well in the election with his environmental wacko friends.''

At the Juneau hearing, Mark Rorick also saw the issue as political, but in a different way. The Tongass exclusion, while not scientifically sound, comes because the Forest Service is ``cowering'' before ``Alaska's three amigos in Washington, D.C.,'' Rorick said, referring to the Republican congressional delegation.

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