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Mountain of comments backs roadless land

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Environmentalists from around the country rallied at the Salt Lake Federal Building Monday to present 700,000 comments to the U.S. Forest Service in support of protecting roadless land in national forests.

A seven-foot pyramid of mailbags held the comments, written by people from across the country. They were in support of a Forest Service proposal to ban new roads in roadless areas, but they also supported extending the drive to ban off-road vehicles, helicopter logging and mining on roadless forest lands.

With other organizations' direct mail, public comments and e-mail, supporters say, total comments passed 1 million.

About 70 demonstrators attended the rally, some carrying placards with slogans like "Logging NO Tongass Yes." Tongass referred to Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which environmentalists say the Forest Service left out of the proposal for political reasons. Stickers on T-shirts and caps proclaimed, "Protect Wild Utah."

The petitions were trucked to Salt Lake City because this is where the Forest Service is collecting comments.

"The Forest Service must do better!" said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, Portland, Ore. Rait, a former Utahn, added this is the largest public outpouring ever on federal rule-making.

"Now it is up to President Clinton to rescue his legacy" on environmental matters, he added.

John Leary of the Washington (state) Wilderness Campaign, said a Forest Service official said the agency discounts pre-printed postcards, which is what most of the comments are. But, he said, a speaker at a hearing said she chooses groups to join because they support her opinions, and they provided such postcards.

Added Julie Wormser of the Wilderness Society, Boston, Americans overwhelmingly want remaining roadless forest areas to remain wild. This is borne out in many polls, she said.

"This is not about playing God," she added. "It's about playing Noah."

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com