Planning the future of Minnesota’s national forests

IBy Molly Rosenblatt It’s not very Minnesotan to boast, but we have some of the most beautiful natural areas in the United States, including the Superior and Chippewa national forests. They are a big part of the natural heritage our state is proud of – clean lakes and natural forests that provide all types of recreation. Right now the U.S. Forest Service is revising its plan for managing these forests over the next 15 years. Unfortunately, the Forest Service is proposing to increase commercial logging and sacrifice the last roadless areas left in these national forests.

The Forest Service is listening to public comments on the proposed forest plans until Aug. 11. Timber and paper corporations are lobbying the agency to expand their taxpayer-subsidized logging program on these public lands. The proposed limit for logging in this plan is well above the average cut for the last decade, despite concerns that Minnesota is losing natural forests and the rare wildlife that depend on them.

The proposed plan will increase motorized recreation trails, but fails to provide matching areas for silent sports and wildlife-related recreation. Recreation is a very important part of the northern Minnesota economy – and much of it is nonmotorized. More people visit the national forests for hiking, skiing, camping and wildlife than go to ride all-terrain vehicles.

These uses of the national forests don’t need to be contradictory. The Forest Service has chosen to increase logging and motorized recreation at the expense of natural forests and quiet recreation. They have rejected management alternatives that would have maintained logging and restored and protected most of the forest. They have rejected alternatives that found a balance between giving ATVs access and preventing the permanent damage they do.

On the bright side, the proposed plan would use prescribed fires to reduce the risk of wildfire on federal land. The agency’s plan to address fire risk with professional management practices is much more responsible than rushing logging projects through a hurry-up version of environmental review, as the Bush administration is trying to do.

Now is the crucial time to speak out if you want to protect the beauty and wildlife we are so proud of in northern Minnesota. Learn more about the proposed plan at the Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest Proposed Forest Plans Web site and the Sierra Club Web site and then send comments about the proposed forest plans to the Forest Service at [email protected] or at Forest Plan Revision, Chippewa National Forest, 200 Ash Ave. N.W., Cass Lake, Minn., 56633.

The national forests belong to all of us. Even if you don’t go up to use them all the time, the fact that they exist is a big part of our national heritage. What a loss it will be if our grandchildren don’t have the option to see and experience what we can.

Molly Rosenblatt is a journalism student and a Sierra Club volunteer. She can be reached at [email protected]