Road ban no trouble on Kenai

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

The roadless policy President Clinton signed Friday for U.S. na-tional forests has few ap-parent effects on the plan for Forest Service lands on the Kenai Peninsula.

"The rerouting of the Sterling Highway (by Cooper Landing) is still allowed," said Chugach National Forest spokesman Doug Stockdale. "The final rule says major highway projects are exempt, and that is considered a major highway."

While the Clinton administration has been devising its roadless policy, the Forest Service has been revising its management plan for the 5.4-million-acre Chugach forest, which stretches from Cooper Landing through Prince William Sound and the Copper River delta. Forest Service planners have taken public comment on the draft Chugach plan, and are considering whether it should be adjusted to better serve the public need.

"We'll modify the forest plan to comply with the roadless plan," Stockdale said.

Inventoried roadless areas cover 98 percent of Chugach National Forest. The final roadless plan bans construction of new roads in inventoried roadless areas except under special circumstances, such as to protect health and safety threatened by catastrophic events or to conduct environmental cleanups.

The plan also bans logging in inventoried roadless areas, except in special circumstances, such as logging to improve habitat for threatened or sensitive species, restore ecosystem function or reduce the risk from wildfires.

Stockdale said the main effects on the Kenai Peninsula will be near Hope, where the Forest Service had planned some timber sales. He said the roadless plan still allows the cutting of house logs and firewood.

"You just can't build roads to get there," he said.

The Clinton administration had proposed exempting Tongass National Forest from the roadless plan until 2004 or 2005, Stockdale said. However, the plan Clinton signed Friday includes 9.3 million acres of the Tongass. Timber sales that already have been advertised will go forward, Stockdale said.

Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles slammed Clinton's action (See related story, this page).

"The executive action announced in Washington today is based on little or no science and makes a mockery of the public process that was involved in the creation of the Tongass Land Management Plan and shortcuts the process now under way for the Chugach," he said Friday. "... I am directing my attorney general to file suit against this illegal and ill-advised executive fiat to preserve the integrity of the planning process."

The Alaska Forest Association also bashed Clinton's roadless plan.

"This will create approximately 15 million acres of new de facto wilderness in Alaska," said Jack Phelps, the association's executive director. "This is an illegal draconian measure that unnecessarily hinders reconfiguration of the Southeast timber industry and prevents all Alaskans from enjoying new economic development and recreational opportunities in both the Chugach and the Tongass."

In a printed statement, Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck said the roadless plan is based on public process, sound science and more than a year of analysis by some of the nation's foremost researchers. The Forest Service has an $8.4 billion backlog in maintenance on its existing roads, he said.

"Faced with such liabilities, no private landowner in the world would continue investing in new road construction," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, less than 4 percent of the nation's timber comes from national forests, and only a tiny fraction of that will be affected by the roadless plan.

"Is it worth one-quarter of 1 percent of our nation's timber supply, or a fraction of a fraction of our oil and gas, to protect 58.5 million acres of wild and unfragmented land in perpetuity?" he asked. "... This is a conscious choice made with an eye toward the future."

Stockdale said Congress has 60 days to review the roadless regulations. A statement from the Alaska regional office of the Forest Service said the service does not know how President-elect Bush may influence the roadless plan. Congress has authority over new regulations, the regional office said, and it can vote to overturn a rule, subject to presidential approval.

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