TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Some Oklahoma timber harvesters are concerned about a sweeping proposal to protect 43 million acres of national forest, even though federal officials expect it will have little impact in the state.
Citizens will have the chance to speak out in June on President Clinton's plan aimed at keeping some forest land road less. The Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma and Arkansas is included in the proposal.
Some in the timber industry see the plan as a threat that would unnecessarily lock up access to the southeast Oklahoma timber.
"I think it's a terrible idea," said Ed Hurliman of Hurliman Forest Products in Broken Bow. "It's going to tie up too many acres in wilderness and set-aside that won't be beneficial to man in any way."
But the proposed ban on new road building would have no effect initially in Oklahoma, said Bill Pell, acting team leader for planning and recreation for the Ouachita National Forest.
Oklahoma's road less areas, Rich Mountain and Beech Creek in LeFlore County, already have congressional designations that limit road building, he said Wednesday.
Under a second part of the proposal, local forest managers would help determine what areas might need conservation protection or road access, he said.
Pell said that in the short term, the proposal would have "absolutely no effect" on national forest land in Oklahoma. "In the long term, we don't know."
The proposal sets broad criteria as to whether logging, grazing and other activities should be allowed in forests but lets local foresters make the call.
Craig McKinley, head of Oklahoma State University's forestry department, said almost everyone has a different opinion on the proposal and what it will mean to the future of the forests.
The majority of Oklahoma's 6.3 million acres of timberland is held by non-industrial private landowners. The remaining one-third is owned by timber companies and federal and state governments, he said.
Because only about 20 percent of Oklahoma is forested, McKinley doesn't expect the proposal to generate as much controversy as in other states.
"Certainly, if areas remain road less it reduces anything that is human related, whether it be recreational benefits or fire control or timber harvesting," he said.
Donald Herron, part owner and manager of an Idabel timber company, said he harvests from private land and that locking up U.S. Forest Service timber would help his business.
"But I'm not in favor of it," he said of the road less proposal. "Land can be protected and used for timber at the same time. It doesn't have to be off-limits to man to be protected."
The Oklahoma Forestry Association has not issued an official opinion, but executive director Mark Hannah said roads are important to forestry management and fire fighting.
He doesn't think enough thought has been put into the road less initiative and plans to attend the public sessions to share his opinion.
The closest information meetings to Oklahoma will be held June 1 in Russellville, Ark., June 5 in Hot Springs, Ark., and June 8 in Mena, Ark. Comment sharing sessions are scheduled for June 20 in Mena, June 22 in Hot Springs and June 27 in Russellville.
On the Net:
U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service:
Oklahoma Forestry Association: http://www.okforestry.org