Legislators seek to overturn roadless policy

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House Transportation Committee joined the chorus criticizing President Bill Clinton's roadless policy on national forests in Alaska.

In its first action of this legislative session, the committee Tuesday passed House Joint Resolution 6, which supports overturning the roadless policy by litigation, congressional action or executive order by President-elect George W. Bush.

The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, doesn't authorize spending any money overturning the policy.

Clinton earlier this month signed an order banning new road-building on 60 million acres of national forest land, including the Chugach and the Tongass national forests in Alaska, except for roads involving timber sales that were already proposed.

''The president's action really is an affront to all Alaskans,'' Wilson said. ''It's a blatant disregard for the process that's been agreed to all along.''

She and other opponents said the policy ignores agreements made in the Tongass Land Management Plan and violates the ''no more'' clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. That act limits federal land withdrawals to 5,000 acres without congressional approval, and Wilson maintains the new roadless policy amounts to a massive withdrawal.

The policy will hurt Alaska's already struggling timber industry and those communities dependent on timber, Wilson said.

Environmentalists testified against the resolution Tuesday.

''There's plenty of timber to support at moderately sized timber industry here in the Tongass,'' said Sue Schrader, an advocate with Alaska Conservation Voters.

Before approving the policy, the federal government went through went through an 18-month involving testimony throughout the country, including 17 communities in Alaska, Schrader said. More than 62 percent of Alaskans testifying at those hearings supported including the Tongass and Chugach in the roadless policy, she said.

It will protest the forests for multiple uses, including fishing, hunting, recreation and maintaining water quality, she said. It will also free up money for maintenance on existing roads in national forests, she said.

However, Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said most of those testifying in favor of the roadless policy in Ketchikan were people who live in the Lower 48 and were here visiting or working for the summer.

He said Southeast Alaska risks becoming nothing more than a playground for the rich under the roadless policy.

''The backbone of the economy of Southeast has been broken,'' Taylor said. ''The future of Southeast Alaska hangs in the balance.''

Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, has vowed to fight the roadless policy, as have members of Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation.

The measure goes next to the House Resources Committee.

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