WASHINGTON - Logging-road mileage has more than doubled in Northwest national forests since 1960, far outstripping the pace of street and highway construction in the region, a new report said yesterday.
More than 325,000 miles of logging roads now crisscross public lands in British Columbia and parts of six Northwest states - enough to circle the planet 13 times, according to a study by Northwest Environment Watch, a Seattle-based nonprofit environmental-research center.
That's more than the 220,000 miles of public streets and highways in the region, which grew about 25 percent over the past 35 years.
Compared with highways, national-forest roads have proliferated since 1960, more than tripling in Oregon and more than doubling in Idaho and Washington, the report said.
The study by John Ryan and Chandra Shah warns of environmental damage caused by logging roads, including erosion and sedimentation in streams that harm dwindling salmon populations.
It urges a halt to logging-road construction in the Northwest U.S. and zero growth in British Columbia. It applauds Forest Service efforts to remove roads as a central part of watershed restoration in heavily logged national forests.
"Perhaps its most surprising finding is that roads have surpassed streams as the most dominant feature of the landscape in the region," said Alan Durning, the center's executive director and former researcher with Ryan at the Worldwatch Institute in
"Today, outside of Alaska, more of the U.S. Northwest is accessible to four-wheelers than to salmon."
The report addresses the region's overall road network - public streets, highways and public logging roads combined - roughly 535,000 miles across British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, northwestern California, western Montana and southeastern Alaska.
British Columbia has the longest combined road network, about 190,000 miles; followed by Oregon, 127,000; Washington, 95,000; Idaho, 69,000; western Montana, 29,000; northwestern California, 22,000; and southeastern Alaska, 5,000.
"Surprisingly, the Northwest's extensive network of highways . . . has expanded relatively little since 1960," the report says.
"During this period, regional population nearly doubled and the number of cars tripled, yet recorded highway mileage increased only 25 percent."
That's partly because new housing developments do not add much mileage compared with old rural roads stretching across vast distances. Also, some new suburbs simply pave over existing roads, the report said.
National forests in the U.S. Northwest average 3.5 miles of road for each square mile of land, the report said, citing 1994 figures by the Forest Service.
Oregon's national-forest roads grew from about 20,000 miles in 1960 to 73,000 miles in 1994.
Washington's grew from about 9,000 miles to 22,000 miles, Idaho's from about 16,000 to about 33,000 and Alaska's from 251 to 3,600, the report said.
Logging roads on British Columbia's public lands now total about 150,000 miles.