By Martin J. Kidston
Montana Senator Max Baucus has yet to see the details of President Clintons conservation plan for national forests, but a spokesman for the senator said hes in favor of protecting Montanas roadless areas.
Bill Lombardi, spokesman for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the senator understands the importance of protecting roadless areas tucked away within the states national forests.
He thinks its important to protect wilderness habitat and to preserve Montanas hunting and fishing heritage, Lombardi said of the senator. He thinks its important to protect roadless areas, because it preserves our ability to make decisions regarding wilderness issues in the future.
Lombardi said the senator hasnt signed off on the conservation plan because he hasnt seen the details.
While Baucus sees the importance of the protection plan, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., says the president is playing politics with the livelihood of Montanans.
This land withdrawal will hurt, possibly even devastate communities throughout the West, a Burns press release said. The timber industry and recreation are bound to take the biggest hits.
Burns said the conservation plan is an effort by the president to bolster Al Gores presidential campaign, as the vice president feels a need to out green Bill Bradley.
In a letter from the president to the Secretary of Agriculture, Clinton directs the forest service to develop and propose for public comment regulations to provide appropriate and long-term protection for most or all areas currently inventoried as roadless. The directive also requests studies to determine if the plan should be extended to smaller roadless areas not yet inventoried.
The nature and degree of protections afforded should reflect the best available science and careful consideration of the full range of ecological, economic and social values inherent in these lands, the president wrote. In weighing the future of these lands, we are presented with a unique historical opportunity.
The president said inventories have shown that more than 40 million acres of roadless areas exist within the National Forest System, most in 5,000 acre parcels or larger.
A temporary moratorium on road building in most of these areas has allowed us time to assess their ecological, economic and social values, and to evaluate long-term options for their management, the president wrote.
The National Forest System claims 192 million acres of forest and grasslands in 46 states. These lands provide a multitude of benefits to the American people, the president said. They supply drinking water for 60 million Americans and provide important recreational opportunities to an increasing urban population.
In Montana, 6.2 million acres would be affected under the conservation plan. There are more than 17 million acres of national forest lands overall in the state.