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E-M:/ Forest Service Roadless Hearings on Thursday



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Enviro-Mich message from "Tom & Anne Woiwode" <woiwode@voyager.net>
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Enviro-Mich folks:

To paraphrase, in a sort of sick way, a phrase from Margaret Mead, "never
underestimate that a little misinformation spread aggressively amongst a
large group of people can change reality; it far too often does."

On Thursday afternoon and evening, two hearings were held by the Forest
Service on the nationwide proposal to provide protection for roadless areas
on National Forest lands.  The scoping sessions were designed to collect
information from the public about what the agency should consider when it
prepares its Environmental Impact Statement on what protection should be
given to the between 40 million (if you leave out Tongass NF and other
Pacific NW NFs) and 60 million acres of roadless areas. You have undoubtedly
seen the posts describing the issue previously, so I'll just talk about the
hearings.  I would certainly welcome corrections, additions, elaborations
and arguments from others present.

Hiawatha NF session, Manistique

Reports from the Hiawatha NF sponsored "listening session" say that about 50
people showed up for the 4 o'clock event.  Unlike the others, there was no
formal reporter taping or transcribing comments, so it is very unclear how
comments here will be transmitted.  The more informal nature of the event
evidently prompted interactions among the participants, including
clarifications about what the process was actually designed to do, and clear
indications that snowmobiling groups were widely disseminating grossly
distorted information about the process underway.  The comments were
reportedly largely focused on concerns about closing of snowmobile trails,
even though there has not been anything in this proposal that suggests that
will happen (though, in full disclosure, I would certainly hope that the
full extent of motorized trails gets look at and a full "access" plan for
the forests be developed to really get at the root of the issues, probably
in the full Plan Revisions on the forests).

Among the most troubling aspects of the meeting were reports that
Congressman Bart Stupak's representative spread highly inflammatory and
misleading information about what the Forest Service is up to.  The Press
Release put out by Stupak's office this week gives a good feel for just how
misleading the comments were. At least one television station (Calumet's)
was forced to run a retraction of their original report about the roadless
area issue.  The station based its report claiming that the plan would put
enormous amounts of the Ottawa NF off limits to vehicles on Stupak's
release, and were forced to make a retraction after it was pointed out that
the information was verifiably wrong.  To see the Stupak release go to:

http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/mi01_stupak/forest_roads.html

I would strongly suggest that those who care about the National Forests,
even if you don't agree with the roadless area process, contact Mr. Stupak
and complain about what we have to assume was an intentional efforts to
mislead the public and the press about this issue.  This kind of misleading
and inflammatory rhetoric only hurts the people of this state -- if Mr.
Stupak believes he must mislead his constituents to put himself in a better
political posture, then it is critical that people of all sorts who care
about democratic processes let him know they won't tolerate that.

As you read his press release, you will note the claims that this process
will have a devastating effect on the economy of the UP.  For starters, as
much as I might wish that more roadless areas will be created and protected
by this process in Michigan, the prospects at this point appear to be that
at best this process might add a couple of new areas, and might provide
protection for areas that were considered under RARE II in the seventies but
not designated wilderness in the eighties.  The total acres of NEW areas
protected will likely be well less than 1 percent of the National Forests in
Michigan (wilderness areas at 90,000 are already protected by law out of 2.7
million acres).

Mr. Stupak greatly confuses the issue on the Ottawa NF by mixing in
information about areas were designated to be non-motorized recreation areas
in the Forest Plan adopted in 1986 -- and that final plan was supported, by
the way, by the timber industry and NOT the environmental community.  Those
areas will be up for reconsideration in the Plan Revision process on the
Ottawa, if Congress ever allows the process to go forward.  Plan Revisions
on all three National Forests have been held up by Congress for the past few
years, preventing the revisiting of these areas as Mr. Stupak claims he is
so dedicated to seeing.  Perhaps I have missed him putting out a press
release in favor of removing the hold on Forest Plan Revisions that was
imposed in the budget over these last few years, but would certainly hope
that he now will be willing to talk to his buddies in the timber industry
about getting that hold off so the Plan Revisions can go forward.

On the whole, while the numbers speaking against the roadless proposal in
Manistique were more numerous than those in favor, the comments reportedly
tended to focus on non-issues in this process.  The discussion among the
participants may have been somewhat helpful, but unfortunately the distrust
sowed by those who seem more intent of blind opposition to intelligent
consideration of the proposal and providing guidance for the Forest Service
to follow reportedly cut into any real chance for objective discourse.

Huron Manistee NF, Cadillac

The number of people who came to the HMNF meeting was probably more than
either, or perhaps both of the other two meetings.  The Forest Service had
to arrange to have a divider opened up to allow the 3-400 people to have a
seat.  About 40 people spoke, in an orderly, 3 mins per person process which
was recorded by a court reporter.  Again, like in the previous reports, my
perception is that many who came had been riled up by misinformation, and so
many of the comments made were tangential to the topic at hand.

The Forest Service added a little to the confusion by speaking of
approximately 7,000 acres that would be considered roadless on the HMNF (out
of just a little less than 1 million acres, or less than 1% of the forest),
but then only talking about the Bear Swamp area, a RARE II area not
designated wilderness.  Presumably, they thought it was clear that the other
acreage was the Nordhouse Dunes area, already protected wilderness, but
since that wasn't cleared up some paranoia crept into the comments as people
started speculating that there was plans to close off large areas of roaded
areas to motorized access.

Perhaps the biggest issue repeatedly stated was that people didn't know what
the proposal was so they didn't know how to respond.  A "scoping" process
like this is often confusing to people because it is intended to be a fairly
wide open process for getting input into what the Forest Service SHOULD
consider when they begin to look at the issue.  As a result, many people
assumed that there was some kind of plan out there that they were not privy
to, that decisions had been made already and that this process, even as they
stood there giving input, was already decided.

Of the approximately 40 who spoke, about 6 spoke in favor of protecting
roadless areas for a variety of ecological, economic and recreational
reasons. Many of those issues have been discussed here already.

Those who spoke against ranged from those who viewed this process as being
in conflict with the Forest Planning process, seeing it as a top down
process from the White House, to those, including one self-identified
biology teacher, who claimed that wildlife will not survive in these forests
unless human beings go in and cut them down.  Others expressed concern about
access for the elderly and handicapped, while some raised concern about loss
of timber and fire safety.  Many complained about current road closings on
the forest and claims that virtually no timber is being cut today on the
National Forests.  Some said they thought this whole issue was put to bed
when wilderness was passed in 1987 and didn't think it should be revisited.
Many who spoke against roadless area protection identified themselves as
officials of MUCC.  Other groups included ORV and snowmobile groups, and
Michigan Conservation Foundation (a hunting organization).

The crowd was fundamentally polite to both the agency staff and each other,
although the Forest Service facilitator had to ask that applause not occur
to keep the meeting from running on. At the end of the hearing, the Acting
Supervisor Paul Bradford summed up the input, and observed that the most
important thread through all of this was that those who came and spoke care
a lot about this National Forest.  I would agree with that, but I was
troubled by the inflammatory nature of much of the rhetoric thrown around.
There is plenty of room to discuss whether any proposal like this is good or
bad, but it was clear many who came were motivated by exaggeration and lack
of a good understanding of the issue at hand.

I will remind folks that all comments must be submitted by Monday, December
20 -- if you wait until then, you should use the email submission to assure
your comments get in.  The Draft Environmental Impact Statement on this
issue is expected to be issued in the spring, and a decision made sometime
next year.  It is not exactly clear yet what happens in each National Forest
on this issue if the plan is approved, so there may well be additional local
level consideration even after the completion of the nationwide process.

Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club


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