Forest plan expands wilderness
Union Leader Staff

LACONIA � A draft proposal of a forest plan for the White Mountain National Forest is expected to recommend putting more acreage into protected wilderness, without a significant change to logging limits.

The areas where expansion of wilderness protection will be suggested are in the Wild River area, near the Maine border east of Gorham and Sandwich Notch, near Waterville Valley, according to U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-NH. He did not know exactly how much land will be proposed as new wilderness.

Congress must approve expansion of wilderness areas, and Bradley said he wants to hear from a variety of sources � from loggers and snowmobile clubs to wilderness advocates � before he votes.

�I want to see input from all parties,� he said.

Bradley, who spends weekends in the forest at this time of year and is within reach of climbing all 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire, said the forest is well-managed, but the forest plan is crucial.

U.S. Forest Service officials said the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is kept secret until it is published, is due at the printer�s soon. A 90-day public comment period will follow release of the plan, expected later this month.

The forest plan has to be updated every 10 to 15 years. The current plan was drafted in 1986. The forest was created in 1911 as a �land of many uses,� designed as a multi-use forest for recreation and timber extraction.

Currently, there are 113,000 acres of Congressionally designated wilderness in the forest, which encompassses 780,000 acres. Wilderness areas are far from roads or buildings, and have strict bans on machinery, logging or human altering of the landscape. They are meant to be places of solitude, forever.

Jason Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, said he expects the plan will allow more logging, although still at a level far below what new growth can sustain.

About half the forest�s acreage is open to logging under the current plan. New tree growth in the logging area can provide a sustained yield of 69 million measured board feet annually, according to the existing land and resource management plan. The plan allows loggers to cut an average of 35 million measured board feet a year, but loggers take only about half that now. Several years ago, during a study of whether the forest was home to the endangered Indiana bat, logging came to a virtual halt.

The draft forest plan is the product of years of scientific analysis, and more than 100 local planning group meetings in Gorham, North Conway, Plymouth, Lincoln-Woodstock and Chelmsford, Mass.

Charles Niebling, policy director for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said the local involvement by loggers, birders, hikers and the motorized recreational community is crucial to a wise and sound approach to managing public lands.

He said there has been a general consensus on the idea of wilderness expansion. But he urged Congress to hold off nominating lands for wilderness designation until the public hearing process is complete.