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Major Cleanup Ahead for WA's Old Forest Roads

December 21, 2007

Olympia, WA – A Washington State official says thousands of miles of mostly-abandoned logging roads in Washington amount to what he calls a "ticking time bomb." The roads are located in the national forests in the state, from mountain ridges all the way to Puget Sound. Most of them aren't maintained and are washing out, jeopardizing downstream water quality and wildlife habitat, including salmon spawning areas.

Thanks to the "Legacy Roads Remediation Initiative" introduced by Washington Congressman Norm Dicks and backed by 11 conservation groups, Congress has approved $39 million for repairing or closing such roads nationwide. Although Washington is expected to get a good chunk of that money, even the full amount would only pay for a start on cleaning up the state's 22,000 miles of old logging roads, a state official says.

Steven Bernath, senior policy analyst for the Washington Department of Ecology's Water Quality program, drew the explosive analogy.

"We basically have a time bomb ticking. Those roads are putting sediment into the streams and actually destroying habitat fixes and work that's being done downstream, because most of these lands are upstream of everybody else."

Bernath says the U.S. Forest Service budget has been cut so sharply that the agency hasn't had the staff or money to keep up with the problem, and recent flooding hasn't helped.

By the federal agency's own estimate, he adds, Washington's share of the $39 million will be just a down payment on what's looking like at least a decade of work.

"To deal with the fish blockages, to bring their roads up to standard and to decommission or retire the roads they no longer need, it's going to take an estimated $300 million. And we’re very concerned that that's a low estimate."

The State of Washington has given the Forest Service until 2016 to bring the road system into compliance with state standards. Bernath says it will take every bit of that time to meet the deadline.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA