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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Roadless areas in Washington could have been endangered by federal funding bill, conservation groups say

FILE - Old growth Douglas fir trees stand along the Salmon River Trail on the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore., in this June 25, 2004 photo. (RICK BOWMER / AP)

A bill moving through the U.S. Senate had some Washington conservation and recreation groups concerned this week. A provision in the Senate’s omnibus spending bill could have opened up some Alaskan forests to logging and road construction.

Even more concerning to Washington groups was the precedent the bill would have set. In 2001, Congress created the Roadless Area Conservation Rule which protected more than 58 million acres of roadless areas on National Forests lands.

The 2018 spending bill proposed exempting some areas in Alaska, as a way to earn money for the cash-strapped Forest Service’s wildfire fighting efforts. On Wednesday, reports emerged indicating that a deal was reached that did not include the Alaska exemption. Conservation Northwest praised the news in a statement.

“We welcome this deal with both appreciation and relief,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “There has long been a need and bipartisan support for a more sensible approach to paying for Forest Service firefighting. This deal achieves that need while including relatively modest timber-driven provisions, rather than extreme logging provisions that some in Congress tried to force.

“Senator Cantwell deserves extreme appreciation for her stalwart leadership throughout this process, and we also thank Representative McMorris Rodgers for playing an important role.”

Earlier in the week the Washington Trails Association urged Washingtonians to contact their senators and voice their opposition to the exemption in a blog post. The Senate is scheduled to vote on Friday.