WASHINGTON - September 1 - Nearly 50 segments of the popular 2,100-mile-long Appalachian Trail (AT) stretching from Georgia to Maine are endangered by the Bush Administration's controversial proposal to repeal the federal roadless rule in order to exploit national forests for clear-cut logging and other commercial uses, according to a detailed mapping analysis undertaken by the nonprofit Campaign to Protect America's Lands (CPAL).
As thousands of Americans make plans to hike the AT over the Labor Day holiday and in the coming weeks to see fall colors, the new CPAL report, "Hacking the Trail: How the Bush Administration's Roadless Rule Threatens the Appalachian Trail," exposes the peril posed to the recreational and ecological value of America's best known and most famous interstate footpath, much of which runs through federal forests that would be stripped of protections under the roadless forest rule.
Key CPAL report findings include: 163 miles of the Appalachian Trail go directly through endangered roadless forest areas at 31 different points in six states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, New Hampshire and Vermont. There are 363,388 acres of roadless areas that either straddle the trail or actually "cross" the AT. Additionally, 16 roadless areas involving 38,017 acres are within a mile of the AT. The total of 47 AT trail segments in or near 401,405 acres of at-risk national forest areas include some of the most best known and most scenic sections of the trail, including Springer Mountain in Georgia, White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, and views from some of the highest peaks along the trail, including the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina and the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.
Campaign to Protect America's Lands Director Peter Altman said: "The Bush Administration's repeal of the roadless rule threatens the Appalachian Trails recreational and natural values by hacking apart the forest protections that preserve the character and ecology of the trail. The Bush Administration is not only threatening to destroy more public lands, it is insulting the efforts and commitments of the thousands of volunteers who have worked so hard to make the Trail a special treasure.
Heritage Forests Campaign Co-Director Robert Vandermark said: "The Bush plan eviscerates current forests protections embodied in the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, and instead abdicates national forest stewardship to state and local politicians who could either petition for protection of roadless areas in their states - or for more logging, mining and drilling. The substitute policy announced is entirely unworkable. Few, if any, governors are going to spend their limited resources and political capital asking the Forest Service to protect these remaining wild areas."
The CPAL report - including state-by-state impact details and downloadable maps for each threatened Appalachian Trail segment - are available on the Web at protectamericaslands.org.
On July 28, 2004, CPAL released a separate report showing that the Bush Administration's reversal of roadless rule protections for national forests jeopardizes 23 U.S. national parks and monuments in 16 states, raising the specter of serious harm being done to outdoor "crown jewels" that are traveled to each year by more than 40 million Americans - over a third of all visits to U.S. national parks, monuments and parkways. The 23 endangered national parks/monuments account for no less than 15 percent of all the land found in the NPS system. Nearly 43 million people visited the jeopardized national parks and monuments in 2003, which represents more than 37 percent of all visits to national parks, monuments and parkways.
HOW CITIZENS CAN GET INVOLVED
CPAL outlined the following steps for individuals who want to protect the Appalachian Trail:
* Put the brakes on the Bush administration's proposal by submitting formal comments on the new rule. The Heritage Forests Campaign (http://www.ourforests.org), is leading a national organizing effort to make it easy for the public to express its disapproval of this plan.
* Call on public officials to fulfill and use the responsibility of their positions to stop the Bush proposal. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has a duty-bound obligation to protect the national parks, including National Scenic Trails. Norton can fulfill this responsibility by opposing the rule. The Campaign to Protect America's Land's own letter to Secretary Norton is posted to the Campaign's web site (http://www.protectamericaslands.org) and may be used by others who wish to write the Secretary. State Governors who are now being asked by the Bush administration to manage a federal asset from a state-level should reject this demand swiftly. Constituents should demand their Governors file comments rejecting the Bush proposal as unworkable and irresponsible.
ABOUT THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
The Appalachian Trail is America's best known and best traveled trail system, established in 1937 and designated as the first National Scenic Trail in 1968. Visited by an estimated three-four million people per year, the AT wanders 2,174 miles through fifteen states, bringing hiker across ridgecrests, into valleys and through other scenic areas. Four thousand volunteers donate 185,000 hours of time per year to upkeep the trail.
The trail connects critical habitats of plants and animals. More than 1,400 discrete populations of rare plants and animals have been identified at approximately 350 sites along the Trail in nine states. Some of the notable rare, threatened or endangered species that live along the trail include golden eagles, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, lynxes and cougars.
While the roadless rule's repeal technically pertains to 58.5 million acres of U.S. Forest Service-controlled lands, its evisceration poses a variety of threats to the Appalachian Trail. Roadless areas actually cross or are immediately adjacent to or near the AT. The trail and the surrounding forests are intrinsically ecologically interconnected. Everything connects the two - water, nutrients, wildlife, air and disease. There is no doubt that what happens in national forests affects adjacent national parks.
The potential harm to the AT could be substantial. The negative impacts of large scale timber-cutting or oil and gas development begin directly on its borders or just a short distance away could include detrimental effects through loss of habitat and migration corridors, destroyed viewscapes, vulnerability to disease, damage to river systems and fish populations, introduction of invasive species and noticeable disturbances of sound and smell.