FS unsure of impacts of roadless repeal
By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter
President Bush repealed a forest rule last week that opens nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest land to commercial development.
President Clinton adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in January 2001. It prevented road building in the designated areas for any purpose, including mining and logging.
It's still unknown what impact Bush's move will have on the Kootenai National Forest.
Greg Kujawa, the agency's planning and public affairs officer, said Wednesday that U.S. Forest Service officials are sorting out possible ramifications of the long-anticipated reversal to Clinton's measure.
"It's hard to know right now if it would affect the Kootenai," he said. "We are under interim direction from the (Forest Service) chief to stay out of inventoried roadless areas. We haven't proposed any timber harvests in any of our inventoried roadless areas in several years."
Likewise, a spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Schweitzer said no position has been taken.
"We are still reviewing that rule," Sarah Elliott said. "There are a lot of things to look at."
Fourteen governors have gone on record opposing Bush's reversal, including the governors of Oregon and Wyoming.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski wrote in a letter to the U.S. Forest Service, "I continue to believe that commercial entry into the IRAs will break up the integrity of the forest ecosystem of large contiguous roadless areas, which in turn will lead to severe environmental damage to these sensitive areas."
Kulongoski noted that Bush's rule allows governors of any state with inventoried roadless areas to petition the Secretary of Agriculture to adopt roadless area management plans for their state. However, Kulongoski said that's little solace because there is no guarantee the secretary would accept any state petition.
Julia Altemus of the Montana Logging Association rejected concerns of fragmented forests and rampant road building.
"It's not going to happen," she reportedly said. "The sky is not falling."
The new rule puts management of roadless areas under directives contained in local forest management plans. The Kootenai National Forest is currently updating its plan.
Kujawa acknowledged that timber harvesting in roadless areas could be among the provisions of the updated plan, if Forest Service officials chose to go that way. No proposals have been made to do so.
Nationwide, forest plans allow roads to be built on 34 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, according to The Wilderness Society. That's about 59 percent of the 58.5 million available acres.
In Montana, 6.4 million acres of the 16.9 million total acres of national forest land are roadless.
Forest Service budgets might play a key role in what happens to current roadless areas. Kujawa said the Kootenai's budget is lean, even without considering construction of new roads.
"Right now we have a large burden just maintaining the road system we have," he said.