Untangling the roadless rule in Minnesotaby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Forest managers in Minnesota are trying to work out what a California ruling reinstating the so-called "Clinton roadless rule" means for the Superior National Forest.
Duluth, Minn. — The roadless rule debate in Minnesota is over access to small parts of the Superior National Forest that ring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Sandy Satterlund explored one of the areas in question this summer. She and her boyfriend canoed into Picket Lake, near the Echo Trail, east of Ely. She liked what she saw.
"When we were paddling around one area, we came to just a big rock wall," she remembers. "And then we might have went around a little corner, and there was just a nice little beach area. There's just a lot of different types of lands up there. That's what impressed me, I guess -- all the different things you could see in one trip."
Satterlund says it had the wilderness feel of the Boundary Waters, only less intimidating. It seemed like a perfect place for families to explore nature.
But the U.S. Forest Service plans to log the area. To do that, they have to build roads.
Satterlund says she'd hate to see it logged.
"You know, if they go in there and put roads in there, and do the logging they're talking about doing, it's never going to be the same," she says.
The roadless rule was created to prevent just this sort of logging.
Back in 2001, President Clinton ordered that roadless areas in national forests should not be disturbed. They should be protected from development until they could be studied more thoroughly. In time, Congress could consider giving them permanent protection as wilderness.
In 2005 the Bush administration repealed the rule and laid out a system offering states more control. Critics worried the change would lead to more logging, and a loss of wilderness areas.
Compared to western states, Minnesota's roadless areas are tiny. Just three percent of the two million acres in the Superior National Forest are designated as roadless. (Another million acres are in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.)
But the timber on the land is in hot demand. One of the companies that would like to get at it is Ainsworth Engineered.
Kent Jacobson is woodlands manager for Ainsworth in Minnesota. He says the company needs a predictable, consistent source of timber.
"Without sustainable wood flows, we cannot operate our businesses in a consistent manner, making products that go to supply society's needs, and for us that means homes in the housing market," Jacobson says.
Ainsworth makes oriented strand board, similar to plywood, for home construction. The company just laid off more than 400 people at three mills. Ainsworth blamed high timber prices and said its Minnesota operations can't compete with construction materials produced elsewhere. Jacobson says making more timber available -- even from roadless areas -- will bring prices down.
He also says if the trees aren't harvested, the forest itself could suffer.
"We will end up losing these acres and these resources to insect and disease, or to old age, or to wind or to fire, and ultimately forest health could be compromised," he says.
The U.S. Forest Service designated the Picket Lake area roadless just two years ago, when it conducted an inventory for its 10 year management plan. It wasn't part of the Clinton-era inventory.
So Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron in Washington says it isn't clear whether the California court ruling applies to Picket Lake or not.
"Some of this is management on the ground that we need to figure out," he says. "But in all cases there will be no proposed projects for any of those areas."
But Forest Service officials in Minnesota are going ahead with plans to sell timber at Picket Lake anyway, because they think it's not covered in the court ruling.
John Roth is executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. He says Minnesota needs more wilderness, not just for wildlife habitat and clean water, but for people.
"People need wilderness. They love wilderness. They use it," he says. "And so any additional acres of wilderness will help relieve the pressures on the Boundary Waters."
Roth's group is trying to build support for Congressional action to expand the wilderness.
One thing all sides agree on -- we haven't seen the last of the court cases on this question. Already the governor of Idaho has challenged the California ruling. The Forest Service is also asking the judge to clarify the ruling.
- Morning Edition, 10/19/2006, 7:20 a.m.