Forest initiative puts Mt. Hood on radar

The Legacy Roads Restoration Initiative would create a $500 million Forest Watershed Restoration Corps within the National Forest Service. Included in the initiative would be major funding for the Mount Hood National Forest.

Road restoration is key to the environment, according to Deb Wechselblatt, Restore Mount Hood campaign manager at Bark, a Portland-based environmental group dedicated to preserve forests, waters and wildlife in the Mount Hood National Forest.

"The first and most important step toward protecting clean drinking water, productive fisheries and critical wildlife habitat is to take care of the crumbling road system," Wechselblatt said. "The Watershed Restoration Corps will reduce risks to drinking watersheds for all communities surrounding Mount Hood."

It is estimated the Forest Service has a backlog of $10 billion in road maintenance. The Corps would invest $250 million annually for two years reclaiming roads that are no longer needed, fixing culverts and performing critical maintenance on needed roads to ensure long-term access for resource management and the public.

"Mount Hood National Forest has over 4,000 miles of roads, half of which the Forest Service has recommended be decommissioned" Wechselblatt said. "Roads need maintenance and maintenance costs money. Decommissioning unneeded roads will save millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars in the long run."

The planned funding will create work for excavators, bulldozers, inspectors, engineers and staffing opportunities within the Forest Service.

"These are exciting times, when people can get past the polarization that has challenged public land management for so long," Wechselblatt said. "After all those jobs-versus-the environment debates, it turns out we have an opportunity to create a win-win situation."

The proposal was announced in conjunction with an oversight hearing on green jobs and economic stimulus in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Dec. 10. Nearly 100 individuals and organizations endorsed the program, including retired Forest Service officials, labor unions and conservationists.

1/1/09 in the Mountain Times