JUNEAU (AP) -- Road building should be banned in pristine areas of the Tongass National Forest, according to most of the 62 people who testified at a U.S. Forest Service hearing Monday.
The hearing in the capital was the first of 13 scheduled for Southeast. The next are Thursday in Hoonah and Ketchikan.
The Forest Service, acting on a directive from President Clinton, has completed a draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule that would permanently ban roads in 43 million of 54 million acres currently classified as roadless. A final EIS and rule are expected this fall.
Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck last month proposed exempting the Tongass from that rule because of a legal requirement that the agency try to meet the regional market demand for timber.
Also, Dombeck said, the recent Tongass Land Management Plan is supposed to guide land-use decisions in the 16.6-million acre forest and should be given a chance to work. In 2004, the midpoint of the 10-year plan, the Forest Service could take another look at the 8.5 million acres of roadless areas in the Tongass, he said.
But Pat Veesart said the roadless policy amounts to a ''timber welfare program,'' especially as it applies to the Tongass. He faulted the policy for not including the Tongass, not explicitly banning logging in all roadless areas nationwide and for not protecting areas under 5,000 acres.
Holding her toddler daughter in her arms, Patti Rorick said, ''She needs a forest that's worth inheriting.''
Jack Phelps, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, said he was not surprised by the lopsided testimony.
''It's been a long time since Juneau's been a supportive community for our industry,'' Phelps said. ''With a few exceptions, places like Gustavus and Sitka, I would expect that in other places in Southeast there will be more pro-development attitudes being expressed.''
One of the few in favor of the Tongass exemption was Randy Wanamaker, a board member of Goldbelt, the Juneau Native village corporation. Wanamaker said a roadless policy applied in the Tongass could limit access to land conveyed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
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