From: John Heilprin, Associated Press
Published September 1, 2004 12:00 AM

Appalachian Trail is Vulnerable to New Forest Rules, Environmental Group Claims

WASHINGTON — About one of every 13 miles of the Appalachian Trail between Maine and Georgia passes through national forests where a Bush administration plan could allow clear cutting of wooded areas, an environmental group said Tuesday.


The Campaign to Protect America 's Lands said it found that 163 of the popular trail's 2,174 miles fall within the 58 million acres where the Bush administration proposed lifting a ban on logging, road-building, and other development.


Designated as the first National Scenic Trail in 1968, the Appalachian Trail draws an estimated 2 million hikers each year, including about 500 who travel its entire length over several months. Most enjoy shorter segments of the trail — first built between 1923 and 1937 — that are within easy reach of cities in the East.


"I don't think that walking through clear cuts or mines is what people are looking for," said Peter Altman, director of the campaign, which is part of the Rockefeller Family Fund's Environmental Integrity Project. However, Altman said he knows of no plans to allow timbering along any of the 163 miles of trail in six states covered by the new policy: Georgia , New Hampshire , North Carolina , Tennessee , Vermont and Virginia .


Heidi Valetkevitch, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said the agency wants to protect the Appalachian Trail — including the so-called "roadless" areas that are near or cross its path.


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"We have no intention of putting the Appalachian Trail in jeopardy or harming the area in any way," she said. "It was protected before the roadless rule, and it's protected now. We have no intention of going into these areas. They're going to remain protected."


Most of the trail is protected by the Forest Service's existing management plans and by the National Park Service, which also manages the trail with backcountry users in mind, said David Startzell, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conference.


The volunteer group in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, works closely with the federal government in managing the trail.


Startzell said there has typically been a couple of timber harvests a year near the trail, but they are only distantly visible and the Forest Service tries to minimize the impacts.


"You're just not going to see much timbering, mining, or road construction within the management zone that surrounds the trail," Startzell said.


The administration announced in July that it would allow logging in areas that former President Clinton had put off-limits to such activity shortly before he left office in 2001.


Source: Associated Press



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