Defend national forest roadless areas
By JIM DIPESO, REP’s policy director
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Jim delivered this statement at a press conference in Portland, Oregon, on July 14, 2003.
Hello. My name is Jim DiPeso. I’m with REP, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
I wish I didn’t have to be here. I wish the federal government would just listen to the public and protect the roadless areas in our national forests. I wish our public servants would give the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule a chance to work. But they won’t, so here we are.
We’re speaking up — one more time — to help President Bush get re-acquainted with some history and let him know that protecting our national forest roadless areas is good Republican policy.
It might interest you to know that the first proposal to stop building taxpayer-subsidized roads in national forests came from a Republican administration — Richard M. Nixon’s. That’s right. Nixon’s people realized that building roads in national forests is a boondoggle. Too bad President Nixon let his Agriculture Secretary talk him out of it.
LET’S TALK ABOUT ROADLESS AREAS AND REPUBLICAN VALUES
Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility.
The Forest Service has a roads maintenance backlog of $8.5 billion and rising – that’s B as in Budget-Buster. Here in Oregon alone, the roads maintenance backlog is closing in on $1 billion. It is not fiscally responsible for the Forest Service to build roads it cannot afford to support timber sales that don’t pay their own way.
Republicans believe in reducing the size of government.
A good way to start is to take the good men and women of the Forest Service out of the road-building business. Then, they can look taxpayers in the eye and say ‘we are spending your money wisely.’
Republicans believe in sound economics.
We often hear that oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Wrong. Water is the lifeblood of our economy. In time, we will find alternatives to oil. There is no alternative to water, not now, not ever.
Forests store, purify and deliver good, clean water. Hell, we knew that in the 1890s. That’s one reason the national forests were established in the first place. One-third of the nation’s major watersheds contain national forest roadless areas. National forests provide clean drinking water to 60 million Americans in 33 states, including Oregon.
And they do it for free. The value of that water — $3.7 billion. And that doesn’t include savings from reduced filtration costs. The city of Portland, for example, would have to build a $200 million treatment plant to replace the filtration services the Bull Run watershed provides for free.
Wild forests are bulwarks that hinder the spread of invasive species. Invasives cost our nation more than $100 billion per year. They thrive in disturbed landscapes. Our best, most cost-effective defense against them is prevention — by protecting what’s left of our wild forests and native habitats.
Republicans believe in heritage, tradition and patriotism.
What could be more patriotic than conserving and protecting the American land, the crucible of our history and the guarantor of our long-term security?
Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt set aside 130 million acres of national forests, to protect them from the land grabbers and special interests of his era.
Many of the national forests here in Oregon are part of the Roosevelt legacy – the Siuslaw, the Umpqua, the Deschutes, the Umatilla and the Malheur, for example. Roosevelt protected these forests because he was a patriot acting for the good of the nation. He called natural resources “the final basis of national power and perpetuity.”
And finally, Republicans believe government ought to listen to the citizens it serves.
We conservationists often give the Forest Service an earful. But in 1999 and 2000, the leaders of the Forest Service did something right. They offered a serious, balanced proposal for conserving roadless areas. This wasn’t some inside-the-Beltway deal made in a smoke-filled room filled with suede shoe lobbyists. The Forest Service went out to the public and held hearings — hundreds of them, all over America. They listened, really listened, and found that most Americans– Republicans, Democrats, independents — want the roadless areas of our national forests protected.
IS THE ROADLESS AREAS CONSERVATION RULE PERFECT?
OF COURSE NOT.
We at REP would like to see even stronger protections. The roadless rule is an administrative regulation. As we have seen, it can be weakened or even eliminated by bureaucratic fiat. In time, many roadless areas deserve to be designated as wilderness by Congress. Only the permanent protection afforded by the Wilderness Act will guarantee that our last remaining wild forests will remain here to serve, delight and inspire future Americans.
But those will be future battles. Right now, we call for implementing the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule, as it was adopted. It’s good fiscal policy, good economic policy, and good conservation policy. We have more than enough roads already. It’s time to give the forests and the taxpayers a break. It’s that simple.
Thank you very much.