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Feds and the forest: politicians tackle the roadless issue one more time.

This could be a watershed year in the management of the nation's public forests. In the August 2000 issue, I wrote an editorial supporting the U.S. Forest Service's proposed Roadless Area Initiative, which would have blocked new road building on nearly 60 million acres of national forest. That initiative involved 600 public meetings and received 1.6 million public comments--most of them favorable--but the final rule became the target of eight lawsuits that effectively halted its implementation.

What followed was a morass of legal challenges, agency directives and political wrangling. Now, three years later, it looks like we're going to try again.

Why should hunters care? As I wrote three years ago, opportunities for true wilderness hunting are fast disappearing. Further, roadless areas serve as important wintering, summering and calving locations for big game species such as elk.

The Bush Administration has begun work on a permanent set of roadless guidelines, and it's a good bet they will include provisions for temporary roads to accommodate limited logging. That's because timber operations are a cornerstone of an effort by the White House, called the Healthy Forests Initiative, to reduce the threat of catastrophic forest tires like we saw last year.

Road building and timber operations would seem to be at odds with the whole roadless ideal, but there's a potential win-win scenario for hunters here. In some instances, increased logging can improve wildlife habitat for game species by spurring new growth, and when the timber operations are over, the logging roads will provide good foot access to the tracts--as well as create additional food and cover as they revert to a natural state. The key, of course, would be for these temporary roads to be closed to vehicular traffic once logging in a tract ceased.

At press time, legislators in both the House and Senate had introduced bills that attempt to codify the provisions of the original roadless rule. Sen. John Warner (R-VA), a cosponsor of S. 1200, the Roadless Area Conservation Act, says the bill "preserves key undisturbed areas of our national forest system, while ... allowing for the construction of roads in limited situations such as tire, flood or other catastrophic events."

The bill has bipartisan support and would seem to be in line with the administration's thinking. Hunters who use the national forest system should review these bills (the House version is H.R. 2369) and contact their elected representatives to express their opinions.

Heavy Hitter

In baseball, one of the most important positions is the cleanup hitter--the guy you hope will knock in some runs and win the game. The equivalent in the magazine business is the back page columnist, and beginning with this issue, I'm moving our heaviest hitter into that position: Craig Boddington. I think you'll quickly realize--as I did upon reading "The Hunter's Horn"--that his style and musings are perfect for the back page.

As I write this, I'm preparing for my first African safari. My wife and I are headed to Namibia for a plains game hunt, and thanks to the wonders of modern telecommunication, readers can come along with me--sort of. I'll be filing a daily diary that will appear on WWW.HUNTINGMAG.COM. Look for it beginning the first week of August.

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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Rupp, J. Scott
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Words:542
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