GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Obama administration yesterday extended for another year the moratorium on most logging and mining in millions of acres of remote and rugged sections of national forests.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he wants to continue to give decisions on projects in roadless areas a higher level of scrutiny while waiting for federal courts to resolve the legal issues.
The idea of preserving roadless areas for wildlife habitat and clean water came out of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration tried to open them up to more logging and mining by giving states control.
Conservation groups and the timber industry both welcomed the moratorium since questions remain over the legal standing of the policy. Once those are resolved, conservationists would like to see continued protections for roadless areas, while the timber industry wants more thinning projects to reduce wildfire danger and insect infestations.
National forests in 39 states have a total of 58.5 million acres of roadless areas that have been formally placed on an inventory. Historically, they were not logged or mined due to their remote geography. But the land became a battleground between conservation groups and the timber industry during the 1990s, when national forest logging was cut back to protect fish and wildlife such as the northern spotted owl and salmon.
“The roadless rule stands to this day as the most significant forest conservation measure to happen in our lifetimes,’’ said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice. “You’ve got something on the order of 60 million Americans whose water literally begins in our national forests, and most of that water begins in roadless areas.’’
If the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upholds the roadless rule, Hayden said, he expected the Obama administration to stand pat with the 2001 rule.
The rule allows some logging and road construction to reduce wildfire danger, improve wildlife habitat, and serve preexisting mineral leases.