October 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Forest Roads Are Out Forest Service Offers Plan To Save Watersheds

Staff And Wire Report Staff Wr
 

The U.S. Forest Service is developing new logging policies to reduce landslides, protect municipal watersheds and limit timber harvests in parts of national forests without roads, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Friday.

The proposal also would obliterate many existing logging roads and convert others to trails, Glickman said in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Glickman’s plan likely has more significant implications for Idaho than any other state with national forest land. The Idaho Panhandle National Forests have the highest road density of any forest in the nation - about 11 miles per square mile in the Coeur d’Alene basin. And forest officials acknowledge that many of those roads are unraveling and harming streams.

The Clearwater National Forest just to the south, meanwhile, has captured national attention for the hundreds or thousands of mudslides from the winter floods of 1995-96. The problem was so severe that the Forest Service regional office in Missoula commissioned a study of the causes. The draft report says there were 905 slides, more than half of which were triggered by roads.

Environmentalists doubt the agency’s numbers. There is evidence of at least 2,000 slides on the forest and that more than two-thirds of them are road caused, estimated Larry McLaud of the Idaho Conservation League.

Glickman’s proposed policy also will significantly affect Idaho if it addresses timber sales in roadless areas. There are 105 timber sales planned in Idaho national forest roadless areas during the next five years.

Those sales, in roadless areas larger than 5,000 acres, will result in more than 270 miles of new logging roads. Some sales, such as the Packsaddle sale near Sandpoint, will result in no new roads.

Glickman’s proposal is expected at the end of the year. It is in response to concerns raised last month by Wyden, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Those concerns include “diminishing the threat of mud and landslides, encouraging development of cheaper and more environmentally benign roads, and finally, identifying and developing strategies to protect municipal watersheds and roadless areas,” Glickman said.

“I am confident such a strategy will result in more public support and better resource management of roads on national forests,” he said.

Wyden praised the move in remarks he prepared for a speech today to the City Club in Portland.

The Oregon senator had pressed the Clinton administration for a comprehensive review of the logging roads system as a preferred approach to an environmentalist-backed measure the Senate narrowly defeated last month to dramatically cut the agency’s roads budget.

“The Forest Service has pledged today to put environmental stewardship at the center of the forest roads program,” said Wyden, who also had reluctantly backed the spending cuts on roads.

“With this decision, we should be able to end the empty debate over eliminating the roads budget and start the difficult job of crafting a roads policy with science, not politics, at the center,” he said.

The 380,000 miles of Forest Service logging roads are eight times the size of the entire U.S. interstate system. Environmentalists say they are the most ecologically destructive force on national forests, accelerating erosion and water runoff that leads to mud slides and floods.

And there is a growing movement among fiscal conservatives to join environmentalists in stopping federal subsidies for logging roads. Federal law allows $50 million in subsidies a year.

On a 51-49 vote, the Senate turned back an amendment by Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., last month that would have reduced the Forest Service’s budget for new road construction by about 25 percent. The House earlier defeated a similar proposal, 211-209.

Glickman said a new “comprehensive forest transportation strategy” will determine where and when roads should be built and identify “roadless areas that should be protected from road building.”

It will be part of a broader natural resource agenda Glickman has asked Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck to develop “built on a foundation of science and sensitive to the needs of communities,” Glickman said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Building and removing logging roads

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

Clearwater study

The Clearwater National Forest and the University of Idaho Water Research Institute will present the results of a study of the massive and numerous mudslides in the Clearwater National Forest during the winter of 1995-96. The presentation will be Nov. 1 at the University of Idaho’s Agricultural Sciences Auditorium, Room 106, beginning at 9 a.m.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Staff and wire report

Staff writer Ken Olsen contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Clearwater study The Clearwater National Forest and the University of Idaho Water Research Institute will present the results of a study of the massive and numerous mudslides in the Clearwater National Forest during the winter of 1995-96. The presentation will be Nov. 1 at the University of Idaho’s Agricultural Sciences Auditorium, Room 106, beginning at 9 a.m.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Staff and wire report Staff writer Ken Olsen contributed to this report.

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