Americans say protect roadless areas

July 29, 1999

Web posted at: 2:49 p.m. EDT (1849 GMT)

A poll released Tuesday reveals that Americans from all regions of the country strongly support preserving the remainingundeveloped "roadless" areas in U.S. national forests.

Nationwide, 63 percent of those polled believe there is not enough wilderness protected on national forests, versus just six percent who say too much has already been designated.

Protecting roadless areas has been controversial and theClinton administration is currently trying to develop a policy for road construction and protection of roadless areas.

The U.S. Forest Service imposed an 18-month moratorium on new road building in some roadless areas in February 1999, but the moratorium does not apply to 25 national forests in eight states.

Currently, 30 percent of national forests are defined as roadless areas larger than 1,000 acres. However, even though they're national forests, they are not protected from logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling activities which depend on roads.

Advocates of road building say ample land has already been protected and that the protection of additional lands could be detrimental to the nation's economy.

But most environmental groups say these areas should be protected because they provide unrivaled opportunities for camping, hiking and other recreational pursuits, valuable habitat for fish and wildlife and abundant supplies of clean drinking water.

The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group, Inc., and commissioned by the Heritage Forests Campaign, The Wilderness Society and the National Audubon Society, shows that support for permanent protection of national forest roadless areas cuts across political party, gender, and regional lines.

"President Clinton has a special opportunity to give the gift of the millennium to Americans of the 21st Century," said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "Like President Theodore Roosevelt at the dawn of the 20th century, President Clinton can leave a legacy of historic proportions by protecting the last untouched national forest roadless areas."

Among the key findings of the poll are:

63 percent of Americans favored a proposal to protect all national forest roadless areas 1,000 acres and larger;

Voters surveyed overwhelmingly favor protectingvastly more land in national forests than is currently protected;

Overall, 68 percent of the women supported the proposal, with 64 percent of those identified as Republican women favoring the

proposal and 75 percent of those identified as Democratic women favoring the proposal;

The Clinton administration is generally viewed as not overzealous on environmental issues;

75 percent of voters in the poll support a plan that would not exempt any national forests from a roadless protection policy;

More than 70 percent of voters favor a ban on oil drilling, logging and mining in national forest roadless areas.

"There no longer should be any doubt that protecting national forests roadless areas is good policy and good politics," said Dan Beard, senior vice president of the National Audubon Society. "It is crystal clear that the public wants the Clinton administration to take bold action on this issue."

The poll was conducted between June 9 and 14 among 800 likely voters. The margin of error for this survey is plus/minus 3.5 percent.