Bill would create vast Chugach wilderness areas

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- A Connecticut congresswoman wants to see more than half of the 5.6 million-acre Chugach National Forest designated as wilderness.

To attain that goal, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced the Alaska Rain Forest Protection Act with 78 co-sponsors. Of those, one was a Republican. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, did not sign on.

The Chugach National Forest stretches from the Kenai Peninsula to Kayak Island, east of Cordova.

On the Kenai Peninsula, the bill introduced Thursday would designate 166,500 acres of wilderness surrounding the Resurrection Pass Trail and 100,200 acres of wilderness from Kenai Lake southwest to the Resurrection River.

It would designate 242,300 acres of wilderness east of the Seward Highway from Trail Lakes to Resurrection Bay. It would designate 42,200 acres of wilderness south of the Seward Highway near Silvertip, and 41,500 acres of wilderness between the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm.

Logging would be banned within the new wilderness areas, as would developed campgrounds, large resorts, parking lots and new roads. Snowmachines would be allowed for traditional uses. The bill would close additional areas outside the wilderness areas to logging.

It also would protect parts of Tongass National Forest, expand Admiralty Island National Monument and designate 81 new wild and scenic rivers -- including the Russian, Snow and Kenai rivers, as well as Palmer and Sixmile creeks.

''I think it's ridiculous,'' Tadd Owens, director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, told the Peninsula Clarion.

The Chugach and Tongass forests have conducted extensive local planning efforts, Owens said.

''It seems odd that a congresswoman from Connecticut thinks she has a better idea than the people who participated in the planning effort here,'' he said.

DeLauro has never even been to Alaska, said her press secretary Ashley Westbrook.

Owens said he does not expect DeLauro's bill to go far in the Republican-led House.

DeLauro said the bill would protect the two forests from special interest threats while guaranteeing all Americans access to ''these great national treasures for generations to come.''

She cited comments favoring a Clinton administration rule that bans most logging and road construction in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in U.S. national forests. An injunction prevented the Forest Service from implementing the rule.

''Over 2 million public comments were received asking to have Alaska's rain forest included in and protected by the roadless rule,'' DeLauro said.

DeLauro received 18,000 comments from Connecticut residents supporting the roadless rule. Westbrook said 12,000 Alaskans commented on the roadless rule, and 85 percent supported it.

Stasia Sprenger, Chugach organizer for the Alaska Center for the Environment in Anchorage, said DeLauro's bill is based on public comments.

''Between comments for the Chugach plan and the roadless meetings, there's been a large public outcry for some wilderness in the Chugach National Forest,'' she said.

Environmental groups said logging still would be allowed in existing roaded areas and on private lands within the national forests. That leaves more than a trillion board feet available for logging, said Brian McNitt of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign.

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