WASHINGTON (B)--The U.S. Forest Service announced Nov. 13 a proposal to further restrict current logging and development in the National Forest System and prevent further industry growth there by banning all "reconstruction, and timber harvest except for stewardship purposes in all inventoried road-less areas," some 58.5 million acres.

Despite the difficulties of logging in areas where roads are banned, U.S. timber producers are currently working on 9 million of those access-restricted acres, Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck told reporters Nov. 13. However, he stressed he believes the new proposal will have a minimal effect on overall logging because those operations on road-less areas "are not very productive."

"There is a reason those areas are road-less," he said.

United States Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jim Lyons said, "This is a landmark event...It will protect one third of the National Forests."

There are some 192 million acres of National Forest throughout the United States, 58.5 million of which have been designated as "road-less."

Dombeck said Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman will review the proposal, along with other alternatives, for 30 days and then render a decision.

Glickman said, "Our national forests are a precious national environmental treasure that we must preserve for future generations. In making my final determination, I will carefully consider the Forest Service's recommendation and many of the 1.6 million written and oral comments submitted by interested Americans."

However, just because the Forest Service completes work on the proposal and Glickman signs off on it does not mean Congress will not interfere. It has 60 days in which take up the proposal and make changes.

Lyons said he hopes Congress will not attempt to alter it, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, may want lawmakers to do just that. He has already put out a statement Nov. 13 criticizing the Forest Service's methods.

"First the administration shut the states out of this process," Goodlatte said. "Now it is denying all citizens their right to appeal. This arrogant disregard of fair process is just plain wrong, and it is driving a deep wedge between Washington and local communities."

Goodlatte also stressed that the plan to ban logging and development in the road-less areas will increase the risk of wildfire.

That criticism is a common, Dombeck said in a press conference, but untrue. He said having more humans present in forests is far more dangerous during wildfire season than more trees.

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