The Salt Lake Tribune

Tuesday, July 18, 2000
Activists for Roadless Forests Converge on Utah

Brent Israelsen

Hoping President Clinton will stop to smell the grass roots, environmentalists Monday celebrated their biggest-ever public-comment campaign by disgorging nearly a million postcards and letters on the doorstep of the U.S. Forest Service's offices at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building.

Representatives of activist groups from around the country converged on Salt Lake City, which is ground-zero for the Forest Service's comment-gathering phase of a sweeping Clinton initiative to prohibit new roads on some 40 million acres of unroaded national forests.

"The million comments in support of a stronger roadless policy for the forests is a tidal wave of a mandate," said Ken Rait, coordinator of the Heritage Forests Campaign, which has led a coalition of environmental groups in wanting greater forest protections.

The Forest Service, at Clinton's request, has proposed ending road-building on most remaining roadless areas greater than 5,000 acres in size. The roadless areas amount to about 40 million acres, or about 21 percent of the 192 million acres of national forests.

It affects about half of the 8 million acres of forests in Utah.

Environmentalists want even greater protections, urging Clin- ton to ban logging in the roadless areas as well and to extend the protections to the Tongass National Forest, which apparently was excluded from the roadless initiative because of political pressure from Alaska's congressional delegation.

Opponents to the roadless initiative denounced it as a "one-size-fits-all national forest policy" that is nothing more than political payback for environmental groups, which have been among Clinton's biggest supporters.

"[The initiative] sets a dangerous [precedent] on how our public lands will be managed," said a statement from the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a group that represents off-road vehicle users.

A decision on the roadless initiative is expected by September

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