FOREST ROAD ACTION WON'T IMPACT COUNTY

January 09, 2001 11:00 pm

Two policies on the roads in national forests were recently approved after years of public input, but they wont impact Curry County or the Siskiyou National Forest, officials said.

The U.S. Forest Services Roadless Area Conservation Rule conserves 58.5 million acres of national forests already designated as roadless areas. It was signed by President Clinton on Jan. 5.

The Forest Road Management Policy requires the forest service to use scientific analysis and public involvement at the local level when managing a road system. It was approved by U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck on Jan 4.

Some people have confused the related policies with each other, or with the unrelated proposal to create the Siskiyou Wild Rivers National Monument. That proposal has not reached Clintons desk.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule should have no effect on Curry County or the Siskiyou National Forest said Gold Beach and Chetco District Ranger Gilbert Zepeda Monday.

We havent been entering roadless areas in I dont know how many years, he said. I dont see any effect on us.

He said 24-26 million board feet of timber is scheduled to be harvested each year in the Siskiyou National Forest, but none of it is in designated roadless areas.

Most roadless areas are already designated as late successional reserve and are closed to logging, he said,

Zepeda said recreational users of the Siskiyou forest, along with loggers, have no reason to panic over Clintons action.

We have no plans to close roads into hiking areas, he said. For our program, I really dont see any effect.

He said the new rule means the forest service wont construct new roads in designated roadless areas, but there is no prohibition on maintaining existing roads to current standards.

Tom Reilly, deputy forest supervisor of the Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests, said there are few or no roads on land designated as roadless areas in those forests in the late 1970s.

Other national forests may be more affected by the rule, said Zepeda, such as the district he worked at in Montana.

Existing designated roadless areas include 6,397,000 in Montana, 9,322,000 in Idaho, and 14,779,000 in Alaska. Out of the Oregon total of 1,965,000 acres, road construction was already prohibited on 797,000 acres.

The biggest change in the rule Clinton signed, compared with the preferred option submitted by the forest service, was the immediate inclusion of 9.5 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

The Roadless Area Rule was the result of 600 public meetings across the nation last year, including two in Gold Beach. The forest service received a record 1.6 million comments nationwide.

Of the 10 people who commented at the Curry meetings, eight asked for stronger protections for roadless areas, including those in the Tongass forest.

Jack Williams, supervisor for the Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests, said, The overwhelming majority of folks in attendance at the Gold Beach, Medford and Grants Pass meetings favored protection of roadless areas, although there were strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

Nationally, he said, most comments favored more protection than was initially proposed in the draft environmental impact statement.

The new rule prohibits most road construction and reconstruction in 58.5 million acres of designated roadless areas.

The Rogue River forest has nine roadless areas totaling 81,417 acres. The Siskiyou has 18 roadless areas totaling 287,063 acres.

Williams said, Most of these roadless areas are adjacent to existing wilderness areas or are otherwise in rather remote country. No private lands are included in the plan.

The rule does not affect maintenance to current standards of roads already built in those areas. New road construction will be allowed for public safety and resource protection purposes.

Williams said some roads can damage the environment, while others, such as those to Agness and Powers, critically need improving to serve the basic needs of citizens in these areas.

He said, Perhaps the main point relative to roadless areas is that we need to concentrate on sound management of the 5,379-mile road network that we have now on the Rogue River and Siskiyou rather than spending our few dollars on building new roads into roadless areas.

The rule also prohibits timber harvesting except for defined stewardship purposes within existing designated roadless areas. Those purposes were further narrowed in the version signed by Clinton.

Timber already sold to commercial harvesters could still be cut. Timber sales in the Tongass forest that have won initial environmental clearance could also proceed.

Including the Tongass forest, 5-6 percent of timber harvests will be affected by the rule, said Reilly at the Curry meetings.

Williams said the focus on roads in roadless areas will be on improving the health of the forest rather than on getting the cut out.

As for fires, Williams said the forests will burn. The question is: will fire occur in a way that sustains the vigor and diversity of the forest, or will the fire be catastrophic and burn everything in sight?

He said the new rule requires the forest service use fire and harvesting in ways that promote forest diversity and health.

As for recreation, Williams said that some decommissioned roads could be turned into motorcycle or ATV trails.

The Forest Road Management Policy was also signed by Clinton last week.

Zepeda said that decision affects transportation system planning. The forest service must now look at the road system and analyze the landscape when developing or managing a transportation system. Plans must also go through a public process.

Dombeck said the new policy will provide a road system that is safe, responsive to public needs, environmentally sound, affordable, and efficient to manage.

The new road policy will improve public access to the forests we all love while diminishing the risks of erosion and water quality degradation, said Dombeck.

It shifts the agencys policy from developing its transportation system to managing its transportation system in an environmentally and financially responsible way.

The new policy includes a public involvement process and scientific analysis at the local level in decisions to reconstruct, decommission or build roads.

Unneeded roads will be decommissioned while important access roads will be upgraded and maintained.

When assessing new road construction, the availability of road maintenance funding will be considered.

Dombeck said the forest service has an $8.4 billion maintenance and reconstruction backlog.

It receives only 20 percent of the annual funding needed to maintain the existing 380,000 mile road system to environmental and safety standards.

The forest service budget to plan, reconstruct, construct and maintain roads dropped from $297 million in 1988 to $239 million in 2000.

Road use has also shifted over the years. Dombeck said about 15,000 logging vehicles use forest roads daily, about the same as in 1950. Thats down from 42,000 in 1990.

Recreational use, however, has increased tenfold in the same period, rising to 1.7 million vehicles daily. About 80 percent of that use is on 20 percent of the road system.

We need to work better with local people to make decisions about their forests local roads, said Dombeck.

This policy will help us bring communities together to make common sense decisions in the best interest of the land about the roads we should keep, those we should close and those we may want to convert to other uses, such as walking trails.

Dombeck said the policy resulted from an extensive public involvement process that began in January, 1998.

The forest service received more than 130,000 comments, plus an additional 5,900 comments after the proposed policy was released in March.