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Hold on to the unspoiled areas

Hold on to the unspoiled areas

Sunday, May 21, 2000 Missoulian Editorial Montanans have written letters, answered surveys, called their representatives and senators, detailed the thrill of driving off-road vehicles and pleaded the irreplaceable value of clean water and unmarred land.

Now, the Forest Service has outlined its "preferred alternative" in the debate over the future of roadless land already in the Forest Service system.

A draft environmental impact statement is out for a test drive at 300 public meetings around the country. Informational sessions followed by public hearings are scheduled around western Montana (see schedule).

The Forest Service's proposal accomplishes the basics: It sets aside 43 million acres of public land, 5.8 million of them in Montana, that are not already crisscrossed with roads. Americans have millions of miles of roads to use in this country, and don't really need more.

Not included in the preferred alternative is a ban of off-road vehicles in these areas, which is a mistake. In fact, none of the four possible alternatives ­ even the most restrictive ­ bans ORVs.

All-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, four-wheel drives, Jeeps and other ORVs are fantastic fun and have a place. But use is skyrocketing and will only increase; they are powerful and can travel farther into remote areas than ever before. They pose a threat to wildlife and can spread weeds, damage land, cut in unwanted roads and cause erosion. Restrictions are probably warranted in areas important enough to be dubbed roadless.

Actually, the Forest Service has left some wiggle room in its draft EIS for such rules: Individual forests may allow or restrict other activities ­ timber sales, helicopter logging, mining, oil and gas exploration ­ through their own, unique forest plans.

There are many competing interests in this debate, with some groups advocating more restrictions and other groups wanting more access of every kind. Attend one of the public sessions to learn more and to make your own decision. Service Chief Mike Dombeck was right when he said, "This is a proposal that will be improved through public comment."

These acres are irreplaceable natural assets. The Forest Service has a tough job, but its overriding goal should be to preserve these lands for the future.

Forest Service meetings

Discussion of the Forest Service's new proposal will begin at informational meetings this week. In western Montana, the schedule includes:

May 23, 6:30-9 p.m., Doubletree Hotel, 100 Madison St., Missoula

May 24, 6:30-9 p.m., Plains High School

May 30, 7-9 p.m., Community Center, 223 S. Second St., Hamilton

May 30, 7-10 p.m., Libby City Hall, 925 E. Spruce St.

May 31 and June 1, 7-9 p.m., Outlaw Inn, 1701 U.S. Highway 93, Kalispell

Formal public hearings follow in June:

June 20, 7-9 p.m., Community Center, 223 S. Second St., Hamilton

June 21, Doubletree Hotel, 7-9 p.m., Missoula

June 26, 27 and 28, 7-9 p.m., Outlaw Inn, Kalispell

June 27, 7-10 p.m., Libby City Hall, 925 E. Spruce St.

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