Inslee wants to protect roadless areas in state forests - Legislation could block revisions of the roadless rule being planned by the Bush administration.

By Christopher Dunagan
Bremerton Sun Staff

Bremerton, WA - 5/19/02 - Snow crunched underfoot as the hikers crossed over a melting patch of white draped across the trail.

In the lead and setting a brisk pace was U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge
Island. As Inslee stepped off the snowdrift, he paused to peer down a steep
embankment. Below, he could see the rushing and splashing waters of the
South Fork of the Skokomish River.

"We need this water in D.C.," Inslee said smiling, as the other hikers
caught up to him. "The D.C. water doesn't look anything like this."

On Wednesday, Inslee intends to introduce legislation that would protect
forever this piece of Olympic National Forest and dozens of other roadless
areas across the nation,

In all, 58 million acres - nearly a third of all national forestland - would
be protected against most road-building and logging activities.

The law is needed, Inslee says, because the Bush administration is slowly
unraveling the Roadless Area Conservation Rule set in place in the waning
days of the Clinton administration.

Inslee, who has lately taken some strong stands on environmental issues,
welcomed the chance to be interviewed in a roadless area of the Olympics.

Along on the hike were Patrick Hogan of his Mountlake Terrace office; Jim
Scarborough, a volunteer with the Wild Washington Campaign; plus a Sun
reporter and photographer.

Along the South Fork of the Skokomish, towering Douglas firs and cedars
filtered the bright sunshine, allowing only a few shafts of brightness to
reach the ground.

Inslee gazed up through a break in the foliage at an awe-inspiring tree,
hundreds of years old and nearly eight feet in breadth. Its top was missing,
perhaps blown out by wind or lightning, yet the tree still dwarfed the
people on the trail.

Farther on, the congressman paused to admire a white, three-petaled flower
at the edge of the trail. The delicate trillium were in bloom across the
expanse of the forest floor.

"It is really exciting to think that you could save something as beautiful
as this area, to follow in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt," Inslee said,
enjoying the surroundings.

To be sure, the Skokomish roadless area - and most roadless areas in the
Olympics - are already protected under the Northwest Forest Plan. That plan
was adopted during President Clinton's first term to resolve the fierce
conflict over protections for the northern spotted owl and other old-growth

Inslee contends that places like this need more long-term protection, and
the need is even greater in forests where roadless areas are targeted for

The "roadless rule" was the result of an "overwhelming desire of the
people," Inslee said. The rule followed more than 600 public meetings
throughout the country, and national polls continue to show support for
protecting the last remaining roadless areas.

Opponents of the rule argue that it was hastily drafted and failed to
analyze the social, economic and environmental consequences, all in
violation of federal law and common sense.

The public never has understood the cost of withholding timber harvests from
nearly a third of the national forests, said Chris West of American Forest
Resource Council, based in Portland.

"It boggles my mind how champions of the environment ... say it is not
important to know the site-specific impacts of their actions when they would
demand and litigate a higher level of detail on specific projects," he said.

As an example of the cost, West said the volume of imported lumber has
doubled in the last 20 years at the expense of domestic production and jobs.

After President Bush took office, he delayed implementation of the roadless
rule, which was then challenged by private interests in eight separate

Since then, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has undertaken a process to
redraft the rule, including possible amendments for each national forest.

Inslee's only declared opponent, Joe Marine of Mukilteo, says he would
prefer that decisions on development in roadless areas of the national
forests be made by people who understand the local issues.

The trail narrowed as it edged along a slope above the South Fork of the
Skokomish. Inslee stopped to point out how the trail was sloughing loose
dirt down into the canyon.

"Here's what happens to old roads in the forest," Inslee said, using the
trail to illustrate the process.

The national forests contain 360,000 miles of roads in various states of
disrepair - there's an $8 billion backlog of road maintenance, he said.

"It's a scandal what's happening with these roads washing out," Inslee said.
"We should be repairing the roads we've got instead of planning for new

The roadless rule would allow for logging and/or road-building but only to
protect forest health, to improve habitat for endangered species or to
reduce fire danger.

Outside of wilderness areas, which make up 18 percent of the national
forests, "these are the last remaining areas for recreation and wildlife
he said of the roadless areas. "People have a heartfelt attraction
to these areas. They realize that's once its roaded, it's gone."

Inslee grew up hiking in national parks and wilderness areas, including
Mount Rainier, where his parents worked as volunteers to replant areas
trampled by too many people. His father was a biology teacher and taught him
about nature.

In Congress, Inslee is considered a champion of the environment among
friends and foes alike. He received the highest score possible from the
League of Conservation Voters and the lowest score possible from the League
of Private Property Owners.

Beyond forests, his major issues include controlling carbon dioxide
emissions to reduce global warming, reforming mining rules on public lands
and supporting alternative energy sources.

Before deciding to take a leadership role on an issue, Inslee says he
considers three factors: Is someone else doing a good job to move the ball
forward? Is the issue supported back home? And is it possible to achieve
success in Congress?

"At last count, I had 10,000 good ideas, but Congress can't accommodate more
than three or four at a time," he joked.

The most frustrating thing, Inslee said, is when good ideas are killed by
"special interests" rather than the strength of an argument.

"Congress as a whole is not as responsive to the ethics of people who favor
clean air and water as they should be," he said.

An orange butterfly flitted across the trail and landed on a branch. Inslee
stooped down for a closer look. Farther on, he did the same with a blue

Along the entire trail, Inslee seemed haunted by the hysterical chirping of
a bird that never showed itself. A winter wren, Scarborough said. Inslee
wondered aloud if the bird was following the hiking party or if there were
that many of these birds in the woods.

The congressman rounded a bend and came face to face with an older couple,
Dan and Pat Montague of Olympia, who were out for a day's hike.

"The trillium are just beautiful," Pat said. "It sure is nice to have some
lowland areas like this that are protected."

The two mentioned a washout farther up the trail.

"You've come to the right place; I'm Congressman Jay Inslee, and I can fix
that trail for you," Inslee said, joking.

"You didn't bring your shovel," Dan noted.

"No, but I work well with a pen," Inslee responded.

On the way out, a sleepy black bear lumbered across the abandoned road where
the trail begins. It saw the people and was gone.

Inslee said the legislation he will introduce Wednesday along with with
Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, appears to have considerable

But since the House is controlled by Republicans, a phone call from the
president could bottle the bill up in committee, forcing lawmakers to try
other tactics - such as tacking the measure onto an appropriations bill for
the Forest Service.

"Like a lot of environmental issues," Inslee said, "we will get this bill
through if we can get a vote."

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