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Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Community, Washington

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The U.S. Forest Service promises to clean up its act by repairing or closing all damaged roads on national forest land in Washington state within 15 years. It is supposed to take care of 26,000 miles of forest road in Washington, but there's a maintenance backlog of $350 million, said Regional Forester Harv Forsgren. Applauding the idea of road closures, Tribal Chairman Russell N. Hepfer said, "When we're talking about roads, we're really talking about fish. Twenty-six thousand miles of road - that seems excessive to me.'' The tribe sued after a Forest Service road washed out in the Olympic National Forest, and the resulting flood of dirt devastated one of its tribal fishing grounds. The suit was settled when the Forest Service agreed to repair the damage. "Many of these forest roads in Washington state have been neglected in the past 20 years,'' said state Department of Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons, who signed an agreement with Forsgren on Nov. 21 to fix or close the roads. As a result there have been tremendous problems for water quality -road washouts, flooding, destruction of salmon habitat and mudslides. Recreational users worry about access to taxpayer-owned land when some roads are closed.