SPARKS, Nev. - No new roads would be built across about half of the 6.4 million-acre Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada and California, under the roadless initiative the Forest Service unveiled Tuesday.
But access to the national forest would continue on existing roads and paths - including four-wheel drive routes that cannot be traveled by passenger cars and don't show up on Forest Service maps, the local forest supervisor said.
''It seems a reasonable approach,'' said Bob Vaught, head of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
''This allows us to maintain these areas in their current status. It says we're not going to build new roads in these areas ... and doesn't really affect historic access to these areas,'' he said.
The Clinton administration proposal unveiled Tuesday would ban road building in 43 million acres of federal forests in the United States while letting local foresters decide whether to bar activities such as logging, mining and off-road-vehicle use.
It drew criticism from environmentalists who had anticipated the new roadless designations would result in the lands being treated more like federal wilderness, where no commercial activity or motorized access is allowed.
''The Forest Service blew it,'' said Dan Geary, Nevada spokesman for the National Environmental Trust.
''Without a strong roadless protection plan, Nevada's remaining lands will continue to be threatened by mining and off-road vehicles,'' said Marge Sill of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club in Reno.
Brian Vincent, California organizer for the American Lands Alliance in Nevada City, Calif., said ''the call of the wild in our national forests will still be drowned out by the whine of the chain saw, roar of the motorcycle and moo of the cow.''
Of the nearly 6.4 million-acre Humboldt-Toiyabe, about 3.4 million acres is roadless now and would remain that way under the administration proposal.
Most of the criticism in Nevada since Clinton announced his proposal last fall had been directed at the possibility that access would be cut off to some existing roads. Opponents feared that only roads on agency maps and those passable by passenger cars would be considered formal roads and therefore remain open to travel.
''It certainly was a concern among a number of individuals and groups around the state,'' Vaught said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday at Humboldt-Toiyabe headquarters in Sparks.
In Elko County, some critics feared the agency would close the popular Lamoille Canyon Road, ''which is a paved highway,'' he said.
But Vaught said the proposal makes clear no existing access will be curtailed.
''Hunters will still be allowed to use these areas on any two-tracks or existing roads and access in those areas,'' Vaught said.
''Ranchers will still be able to utilize the area as they have historically. Anyone who wants to access those areas - including snowmobilers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts - will be able to use those areas as they have historically,'' he said.
Elko County Commissioner Mike Nannini said he was encouraged by the agency's comments that ''snowmobilers and four-wheel drive outfits will be able to use the roads.
''It sounds like it is going to come out kind of on the positive side,'' he told KELK-KLKO Radio in Elko.
Helicopter logging will make it possible to continue timber harvests in some roadless areas nationally. Vaught said the policy would have negligible impact on the Humboldt-Toiyabe because little logging is done there.
But mining could be affected.
Russell Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association, said he hadn't seen the proposal yet and was reluctant to comment on it, but he questioned how hard-rock mining could be done without roads.
''To forever close off an opportunity to build roads forecloses any future opportunity for mineral resource development,'' Fields said.
''You can do some kinds of exploration but you would not do any kind of mineral exploration if you knew you could never build a road in to bring out the rock. You've got to have a road to use the rocks,'' he said.