May 28, 2010 in Nation/World

Obama administration extends roadless moratorium

Jeff Barnard Associated Press
Rick Bowmer photo

Old growth Douglas fir trees stand along the Salmon River Trail in the Mount Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore., in this June 2004 photo.
(Full-size photo)

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Obama administration Friday extended for another year the moratorium on most logging and mining in millions of acres of remote and rugged backcountry sections of national forests.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said from Washington, D.C., he wants to continue to give decisions on projects in roadless areas a higher level of scrutiny while waiting for federal courts to resolve the legal issues.

The idea of preserving roadless areas for wildlife habitat and clean water came out of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration tried to open them up to more logging and mining by giving states control.

Conservation groups and the timber industry welcomed the moratorium because of the continued questions over the legal standing of the policy. Once those are resolved, conservationists would like to see continued protections for roadless areas, while the timber industry would like to see more thinning projects to reduce wildfire danger and insect infestations.

National forests in 39 states have a total of 58.5 million acres of roadless areas that have been formally placed on an inventory. Historically, they were not logged or mined due to their remote and rugged geography. But the land became a battleground between conservation groups and the timber industry during the 1990s, when national forest logging was cut back to protect fish and wildlife such as the northern spotted owl and salmon.

The moratorium does not apply in Idaho, which developed its own roadless rule during the Bush administration. Colorado has submitted a roadless plan that has yet to be approved.

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