Wilderness roads

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(HOST) Ruth Page points out that there is top value in keeping protected forests closed to road-building to preserve all the thousands of species of plants and animals living in wilderness.

(PAGE) Millions of Americans have signed petitions asking the government not to do any more road-building in designated Wilderness areas that belong to all of us – not to the President, the Congress or the Courts. They belong to the American public.

Recently, the administration has sought to allow miles of new roads in Wilderness forests, though we already have more roads in our other woodlands than in the entire Interstate system.

Sixty million Americans depend on undamaged forests for clean drinking water; thousands of plant and animal species depend on them; and cutting roads through forests invites all kinds of damage. Off-road vehicle owners sometimes see the roads as an invitation to enter. Some happily drive through any opening in the trees they can find, compacting soil, destroying plants and terrifying animals. In some cases, vehicles further endanger already scarce species. Any motorized vehicle using the roads pours poisons into the forests’ formerly fresh, clean air.

Fire is a greater hazard when cars and trucks travel through woods. Some people find open forests a great place to drive at night and dump trash. Thieves stealing protected plants such as ginseng love finding roads that offer an easy way to enter.

The Washington Post says the Interior Department may be planning to give subsidies to timber companies to log in Alaska’s pristine Tongass forest – subsidies, because such logging doesn’t pay off.

Anyone who’s ever seen the damage dirt bikes do to forest land surely doesn’t want them in any protected forests.

Roads even seriously affect some birds. Robber birds such as cuckoos, that always lay eggs in others’ nests so they won’t have to raise chicks, have an easier way into the woods. As the big chicks hatch, they kick the parents’ own chicks out of the nest and keep the weary parents busy feeding the demanding cuckoos.

Are we anti-logging in general? Of course not. Logging in non- wilderness forests can be done sustainably, and we know from reading Vermont Woodlands that our loggers here in northern New England prefer that. Their woodlands are their insurance for the future.

Perhaps the administration feels that if it can get more roads into Alaska’s superb protected Wilderness, it will be a first step toward making it easier to get public approval for oil exploration there. Once the road’s in, why not take the next step and truck in oil drills?

If that happens, we’ll lose much value from what may be the greatest natural treasure in the U. S.: the only huge virgin forests we have left. They support grizzlies, elk, salmon and thousands of smaller, but important species. Why throw that away for a few months of cheaper oil? It will be far more costly in the long run than offering financial incentives for those who save gasoline by judicious car purchases.

This is Ruth Page in Shelburne.

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