Tree farmers Kent Hinson and Mark Woodall are entitled to speak out against the Bush administration's plans to modify the roadless rule ["Tree Farmers Are Objecting to New Rules on Forestland," news story, Sept. 1]. But they've rooted their arguments in thin soil.

No "glut of timber" will rush to market if the new rule is approved. National forests supply only about 3 percent of the wood needed in the United States each year. Even if harvesting began immediately on some roadless areas, and it won't, the impact on supply would be negligible. The Clinton administration's roadless rule didn't double the prices for timber. Revising it wouldn't cut prices in half.

Georgian Kent Hinson is hardly the only "environmentalist" among the nation's 10 million family forest owners. Virtually all, more than nine in 10, say they own land for aesthetic, environmental or recreational values. The American Forest Foundation represents 50,000 family tree farmers. Together they own about 33 million acres. As members of the American Tree Farm System, each adheres to a national standard based on contemporary benchmarks for sustainability, watershed health, wildlife habitat, and air and water quality.

Like Mr. Woodall, our members care about cash as well as the environment. But changes in the roadless rule pale next to far greater threats to the future of their forests: sprawl, estate taxes that force an end to generations of family stewardship, rising property taxes as suburbs encroach, loss of markets, and land set-asides that threaten rural economies.

All of us have a stake in these issues. Individuals and families own about half of the U.S. forests, closer to 70 percent east of the Mississippi River. These forests provide an endless range of environmental values on which even the most ardent urbanite depends. We can't afford to lose them.


President and Chief Executive

American Forest Foundation