REP supports protection for national forest roadless areas

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s Policy Director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Jim gave this statement at a press conference in Seattle on August 10, 2004.


Good afternoon. I’m Jim DiPeso, the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection – yes, the world’s funniest oxymoron.

I love oxymorons. My favorite one is the Federal Paperwork Reduction Act. I’m sure Congressman Inslee and Senator Cantwell can relate to that.

In all seriousness, we’re a real organization of real people – ordinary citizens who believe that conservation is conservative. I’ll explain more why we feel so strongly about that. But first, let me tell you a brief story.

Last week, I visited one of the most spectacular roadless places in America – the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We saw many wonderful things – a vast expanse of sky and tundra, caribou splashing in the river, golden eagles, and Arctic terns, intrepid birds which fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year, more than 20,000 miles round trip. Talk about a long commute.

There were eight of us in my group, some Republicans, some Democrats. But we weren’t visiting the coastal plain as Republicans or Democrats. We were visiting that spectacular place as Americans who fight for protection of our nation’s great natural heritage. That is a cause that transcends mere partisanship.

The coastal plain deserves full and permanent protection.

And so do roadless areas of our national forests. There are many wonderful places hidden away in those wild forests. The Dark Divide in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Twin Sisters in the Colville National Forest. Duncan Canyon in the Tahoe National Forest. The Eudora, one of many roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest.

The Tongass was established in 1902 by Theodore Roosevelt, one of many leaders – Republicans and Democrats alike – who built a century’s legacy of land protection that will benefit all Americans for generations to come.

Theodore Roosevelt said that conservation is our patriotic duty. He understood then, as we should today, that conservation is consistent with a traditional ethic of self-restraint, of spending the taxpayers’ dollars wisely, of saving for the future, and of giving future generations the freedom to make their own choices.

Now, the administration has proposed to end national protection for these wild forests. They are wrong and here is why:
Number one, the people, you and I, pay the bills for logging boondoggles. The federal deficit is now at half a trillion dollars – that’s trillion with a T, which rhymes with C, which stands for “can’t afford it.”

The maintenance backlog on 383,000 miles of existing logging roads is close to $10 billion.

New roads will mean new boondoggles. How many of you saw the recent article about the old-growth trees that were clear-cut in the Tongass and abandoned, costing taxpayers $2 million? This was the sort of thing that was done in the old Soviet Union – government spending large sums of money it could not afford producing things that no one wanted to buy.

When you’re in a financial hole, you should stop digging. Instead, the administration has proposed to hand the Forest Service a bigger shovel.

Number two, forests produce clean water. That’s one reason why national forests were established in the 1890s. Roadless areas supply clean water in 39 states, including Washington. In 50 years, we will have 400 million people in this country. Wild forests are an endowment that will produce the clean water we will need.

Number three, these are national forests. Their establishment by Theodore Roosevelt and other leaders reflected a national will to leave a legacy for all Americans for all time. State and local interests deserve a voice in managing national forests – but not the only voice. Balkanizing our national forests to serve only local interests is a radical policy, as former EPA Administrator Russell Train wrote in the New York Times yesterday. It dishonors the achievements of our past, disregards the wishes of present-day citizens, and dismisses the needs of future generations that have no voice but ours. It is a stunning failure of vision and we cannot abide it.

My friends, the fate of roadless areas in our national forests is in our hands. Our choice will speak to the legacy we will leave to future Americans. Will we leave them degraded lands, pollution, and the unpaid bills for our thoughtless excesses? Or will we leave a lasting heritage of beauty, clean water, wildlife, and fiscally responsible stewardship? In a spirit of true patriotism, we must choose the latter.

Send in your comments! And, thank you for coming today.