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Fed Budget: Millions On the Road to MT

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 By Deborah Smith/John Robinson, Contact
December 24, 2007

Helena, MT – Congress has set aside a big chunk of money for cleaning up the "roads less traveled" – or not traveled at all – in the national forests, and a nice slice of those funds will probably go to Montana. Lawmakers approved $39 million to clean up or shut down old roads in the forests as part of the budget bill.

Environmental and Resource Economist Joe Kirkvliet with The Wilderness Society says there are close to 16,000 miles of roads in Montana forests that are left over from old logging projects, or were cut into the forest illegally.

"We're talking about removing those roads that are no longer an important part of the road system and can no longer be maintained. We will have some jobs created by this. It's cheaper in the long run to decommission these roads because the maintenance costs are ended."

Kirkvliet says the U.S. Forest Service helped craft the plan because it saves money, and the projects will mean work for heavy equipment operators and contractors. He adds a key benefit to removing unneeded roads is to improve wildlife and livestock habitat, especially along streams and rivers.

The idea is controversial to some who think removing old roads will limit forest access. Kirkvliet says decisions have not yet been made about which roads will be closed, but access will be considered in that process.

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