WV EPEC Update: Protect Roadless Areas in the Monongahela National Forest
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by Anna Sale |
The 60 million acres of remaining roadless, wild forests are not only the remaining wild forests on public lands but are some of the last wild forests in America.
More than half of our National Forest land has already been hammered by development that destroys the forests, pollutes the water, devastates wildlife habitat and is subsidized by American taxpayers. The 60 million acres of remaining wild forests are not only the remaining wild forests on public lands but are some of the last wild forests in America.
With complete disregard for Americas wild heritage, the Bush administration has taken one of the most popular conservation initiatives and worked to dismantle it. The Roadless Rule, designed to protect 58 million acres of roadless wild forests in 39 states, was the result of the most extensive public comment process in history, spanning three years and 600 public meetings.
During the rulemaking, the Clinton administration received a record-breaking one million public comments in support of protecting wild forests. To date, the Forest Service has received more than 2.5 million comments from the American people, more than 95 percent of which favor the strongest protections for these wild forests. Blocking the Roadless Rule was one of the Bush administrations first decisions, followed shortly by refusal to defend the rule against timber industry challenge in court.
In this context, the Monongahela National Forest Plan Revision is ongoing here in West Virginia. The Forest Service recently released its draft Roadless inventory and Wilderness Evaluation. Roadless and old growth forests in the Mon comprise the last remaining large tracts of natural appearing land in the region, other than already designated wilderness. Roadless areas, by definition, have less than a half mile of improved roads per 1,000 acres.
This draft inventory has wide-reaching implications. It serves as an accounting of the Mons unroaded wild forests for the next twenty years, identifying areas that need most stringent protections. The inventory also serves as the first stage of evaluating which areas to recommend for wilderness designation. Wilderness designation provides permanent protection for areas, as in Dolly Sods or Otter Creek. But if an area is not first identified as roadless in the inventory, it is not evaluated for its wilderness potential.
Beyond these administrative considerations, roadless areas are a vital part of a healthy, dynamic forest. It is widely recognized that wild forests preserve landscape diversity by providing critical habitat for sensitive and rare species and watershed protection. Wild forests also perform a wide range of social functions. Wild forests add value to adjacent communities by attracting recreation users from hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, anglers, and hunters. In addition, the unmanaged wild forests function as a benchmark from which we can mark change in our forests and in our communities.
Only 25% of the Mon has been identified by the Forest Service as wild and roadless,ut less than 9% is permanently protected from logging and other destructive uses. In West Virginia, there is broad scientific and public consensus on the importance of continuing to protect the Mons wild and roadless forests and to restore wild characteristics in damaged parts of the forests.
The current draft roadless inventory and wilderness evaluation is available online on the Forest Services Forest Plan Revision webpage: http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf/plan_revision/. As youll see in the document, it only identifies fourteen roadless areas in the Mon, and we are concerned that some qualifying roadless areas were left out of this first draft inventory. The Sierra Club-WV Chapter has joined the Wilderness Society and the WV Highlands Conservancy in bringing some concerns about the draft document to the Forest Services attention. We are urging the Forest Service to revisit their criteria to pick up several wild forests areas that were overlooked in their initial draft roadless inventory.