23
Mai
2004

Bush Pledges to Leave No Wild Forests Behind

FOREST CONSERVATION NEWS TODAY

Forest Networking a Project of Forests.org, Inc.

http://forests.org/ -- Forest Conservation Portal
http://www.EnvironmentalSustainability.info/ -- Eco-Portal
http://www.ClimateArk.org/ -- Climate Change Portal
http://www.WaterConserve.info/ -- Water Conservation Portal

May 5, 2004

OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Glen Barry, Ph.D., Forests.org

President Bush continues to lead as if there is no tomorrow, and if he is not stopped, there may not be. Despite pledges to uphold protections for roadless forests, his administration continues its stealthy dismantling of protections for America's last large wild forest landscapes. The Heritage Forests Campaign has issued a report which details the effects upon regional forests if federal protections were to be reversed at
http://www.ourforests.org/localreports/index.html . And the comment period has commenced regarding the Bush administration's proposal to drill for natural gas in the Rocky Mountain Front – one of the most important wilderness areas in the continental United States. Comments regarding this ill-conceived project can be emailed to mt_blackleaf_eis@blm.gov during the government's scoping process which ends on June 1st. These are dangerous times – imperial war, inequity and injustice, combined with failing ecosystems make for a potent mix. It is up to progressive dark greens to enunciate a vision, and organize the movement, that will allow all humanity to emerge from the darkness. g.b.


RELAYED TEXT STARTS HERE:

ITEM #1
Title: Reversal of Roadless Rule Could Devastate National Forests Source: Copyright 2004, Environment News Service
Date: May 4, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2004 (ENS) - Potential changes by the Bush administration to the roadless rule threaten to destroy the pristine and wild character of more than 32 million acres of public land, according to a series of reports released by a forest advocacy group. The administration has already rolled back roadless protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forests and intends to further revise the rule, which conservationists say is one of the most popular and important conservation initiatives in the nation's history.

"Despite overwhelming public support and their own promises to uphold the Roadless Rule, the Bush administration has been chipping away at the rule for three years, and it is becoming apparent they would like to shred it altogether," said Robert Vandermark, co-director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, which is an alliance of conservation groups.

The alliance released the new reports today to mark the three year anniversary of U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Ann Veneman's pledge to uphold the provision of the rule, which was put into effect in January 2001 during the last days of the Clinton administration.

Critics contend Veneman has already run afoul of that pledge.

The rule bans road building for commercial activities within some 58
million acres - or one third - of the national forests, but it does allow
new roads if needed to fight fires or to protect public health and safety.

Supporters say it provides vital protection for some of the nation's last remaining wild places and wildlife.

They contend road building in these roadless areas only further subsidizes the timber industry and note that the Forest Service already faces a maintenance backlog of $8.4 billion for its 380,000 mile network of forest roads.

More than two million Americans submitted comments on the rule during the federal rulemaking process, with more than 90 percent in favor of the rule.

But the Bush administration sees the rule as too broad and restrictive. In addition to lifting the rule from the Tongass - the nation's largest national forest - it has proposed amending the regulation to allow individual exemptions for states.

That decision could come as early as this month. In March, Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey told Congress that the Forest Service would soon propose its replacement for the Roadless Rule.

Rey noted the legal battles surrounding the rule as good cause for the new policy - nine lawsuits involving seven states have been filed concerning the rule over the past two years.

But critics say the Bush administration ignored a clear opportunity to have the Supreme Court settle the dispute over the rule's legality.

In July a Wyoming federal judge enjoined the rule in Wyoming after ruling it illegally created wilderness areas in violation of the process set up by Congress through the Wilderness Act.

This ruling conflicted with a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reversed a similar injunction placed on the rule by an Idaho District Court.

The Bush administration decided not to appeal the Wyoming decision to the Supreme Court and has asked the appeals court not to accept an appeal of the decision by conservation group.

The best way to sort out the rule, administration officials say, is to proceed with its own revisions. The repercussions of those revisions will aid the timber industry at the expense of many of the nation's last remaining wild places, according to the new reports by the Heritage Forests Campaign.

The reports profile roadless areas in national forests across 12 states, documenting acreage that has been lost due to logging and road building prior to the creation of the roadless rule.

They identify examples of roadless areas in national forests that could meet a similar fate if the roadless rule is reversed.

The campaign's analysis of government statistics finds that a reversal of the rule could result in the complete loss of roadless forests in 11 states.

There are nearly 16 million acres of roadless areas in Idaho and Montana's national forests that are protected by the rule.

If it is reversed by the Bush administration, 9.5 million acres, or 60.5 percent of those areas would be immediately made available for logging and road building, according to the campaign.

The reports find 60 percent - 9.5 million acres - of roadless areas in Idaho and Montana's national forests would be made immediately available for logging and road building if the rule is reversed.

The 147,000 acres of roadless areas in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin would be vulnerable, as would 1.2 million of the 1.9 million acres of Oregon's national forests that are currently protected by the rule.

In addition, the national forests of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia would immediately face the potential for road building and logging in 76 percent of their remaining roadless areas.

ITEM #2
Title: New Energy Drilling Proposals Target Montana's Front
BLM Starts Process to Evaluate Drilling Permits Located on Public Lands in the Heart of the Rocky Mountain Front
Source: Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front
Date: April 16, 2004

Choteau, MT -- One of America's most stunning landscapes, Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, faces a new round of natural gas drilling proposals.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced late yesterday that it had initiated the review process [Environmental Impact Statement] required for new drilling permits on several existing leases located on public lands in the Blackleaf area, right in the heart of Montana's Front.

"Montanans understand that the Front is a special place, and we've worked together for generations to protect it," said Karl Rappold, a rancher from Dupuyer, Montana. Rappold is a member of the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, an organization of ranchers, hunters, anglers, local business owners, public officials, conservationists, and other Montanans who are working to protect the Front.

"The Front contains some of the best wildlife habitat in the United States," continued Rappold. "It would be a shame to ruin that for, at best, a few days worth of natural gas. The Front is where we work, hunt, and live. It represents the tradition and heritage of Montana – a heritage that many of us would like to see protected for our grandchildren."

Montana's Rocky Mountain Front stretches for over a hundred miles, from Glacier National Park to near Helena, Montana. It is a place of unparalleled natural beauty with massive limestone cliffs that gaze out onto a Great Plains virtually unchanged since the days of Lewis and Clark. With the exception of wild bison, the full complement of native wildlife still inhabits the Front.

The Front's long north-south strip of wildlife habitat is so rich that Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department consider the Front to be in the top one percent of wildlife habitat in the United States.

The BLM estimates that the analysis alone for the new drilling permits will cost U.S. taxpayers at least $1 million. The only company that is actively considering whether to drill along the Front is Startech Energy Inc., which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and wants to drill three gas wells at one site within the Blindhorse Outstanding Natural Area of the Blackleaf area.

The BLM agrees that very little natural gas rests beneath the Blackleaf area. On January 28, 2002, the BLM's Montana state office released a "Statement of Adverse Energy Impact" for the Blackleaf unit of the Front. The BLM estimated there to be .014-.106 TCF of gas there, the equivalent of two days of natural gas for the country. Furthermore, Startech has estimated only a one-in-four chance of finding economically recoverable gas in the Blackleaf.

"It is sad that the BLM will spend more than one million dollars to do a study that goes against public opinion and common sense," said Chuck Blixrud, an outfitter and owner of the 7 Lazy P Guest Ranch in Choteau, Montana. "That money could be used for other things like protecting the Front, which would be better in the long run for local people and the economy. The Front is where many of us live and work."

Senator Max Baucus also has challenged the validity of the leases. In a March letter to the BLM, Baucus wrote: "I believe it is not appropriate for the BLM to move forward with spending taxpayer dollars on a controversial EIS, addressing development on federal oil and gas leases in the Blackleaf area unless and until your agency can verify that the leases themselves were validly issued."

Montanans have a long history of protecting the Front, dating to the 1913 creation of the state's first game preserve (Sun River) to the 1972 creation of the nation's first citizen initiated Wilderness Area, the Scapegoat Wilderness.

In 1997, the Forest Service placed the Front off limits for any new leasing for 10-15 years. During public consideration of that proposal, more than 80% of the comments received by the Forest Service supported the no new leases decision. This decision, however, did not apply to pre-existing leases such as those in the Blackleaf region where the drilling applications now being considered by the BLM.

The Bureau of Land Management will hold public meetings, all in an open-house format, at five locations across Montana. The meetings will be May 3 in Choteau; May 4 in Great Falls; May 5 in Missoula; May 17 in Helena; and May 20 in Browning. All will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The exact locations of the meetings have yet to be announced.

ITEM #3
Title: Front drilling proposal sparks 12,000 e-mails
Source: Copyright 2004, Great Falls Tribune
Date: May 4, 2004
Byline: SONJA LEE, Tribune Staff Writer

CHOTEAU -- During the first week of a public comment period on a proposal to drill for natural gas in the Rocky Mountain Front, the Bureau of Land Management received more than 12,000 e-mails -- so many electronic comments that the government account is overloaded for now.

But those 12,000 e-mails are just the beginning. About 150 people packed into Choteau High School on Monday to learn more about an environmental review that the BLM must complete before the proposal moves forward. The Choteau meeting was the first in a series of five that will be held this month.

Nearly everyone who wandered the school reviewing information about the project was quick to offer up an opinion.

And as one person would speak against the proposal, another would walk by singing its praises.

Ora Knowlton of Bynum said he wants to see drilling. It will bring jobs and improve Teton County's tax base.

When production was going strong in the Blackleaf Canyon in 1983 and 1984, Teton County received tax revenues between $410,000 and $470,000 each year, according to county records.

"It's about time we take this nation back from the non-productive enviro-freaks," echoed Darell Stott, who was standing with Knowlton.

"Every one of us will gain if we go out there and produce." George and Patti Widener own about 1,800 acres of land adjacent to where the wells would be drilled.

"Does it concern us?" Patti Widener asked as she examined a map about potential impacts to groundwater resources. "It stops our heart."

Widener said in a 12-hour stretch, the couple observed seven grizzly bears in the area where the wells are proposed. When the rigs go up, more than 100 trucks a day could be using the roads, Widener said.

And she is gravely concerned about impacts to wildlife.

Startech Energy, Inc. of Calgary is asking to drill three wells in the BLM's Blind Horse Outstanding Natural Area, about 75 miles northwest of Great Falls.

A well pad to accommodate the rig and additional equipment would be built on four acres at the site. Eight miles of new pipeline, and 200 feet of new road would be needed at the site.

If those three wells produce, Startech also would resume production at other wells in the area. While additional environmental reviews would be needed, the Startech wells also could lead to other "reasonable" development in the future, according to BLM.

Dave Mari, district manager of the BLM office in Lewistown, said the BLM is keenly aware of the controversy surrounding the proposal.

"We know many people are passionate about this area," he said. In 1997, former Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora declared the Forest Service land on the Rocky Mountain Front off limits to new oil and gas exploration. The Startech leases also predate the BLM's outstanding natural area designation.

The BLM is holding the public meetings to gather as much information as possible, he said. The e-mail also should be operational again in a day or so.

The BLM will collect public opinion and use it to draft an Environmental Impact Statement. That statement will include "alternatives" for drilling and minimizing impacts to the environment. The draft EIS should be complete in February 2005.

At the Monday meeting, people could view colorful posters about potential impacts to wildlife, vegetation, water and scenery. BLM specialists also were available to discuss additional details about the area and the project.

The BLM also offered a short presentation about the project. Jeff Littlepage of Fairfield said he came to the meeting to learn more about the project. He was surprised to learn that the Startech proposal could spur so much additional drilling.

"A little development is good, but that's a fragile area," he said. Others attended the meeting to make it clear they oppose any development on the Front.

"We're here to tell them, 'No means no,'" said Ric Valois, a member of the militant conservation group Environmental Rangers. "As long as I am breathing, they will not drill."

Dusty Crary, who leases land in the area, said he doesn't believe new and improved "technology" will reduce the potential impacts. He said he would be impressed by technology if it brought a sizeable wind energy operation.

"They also talk about new jobs, but what about the jobs that are already here?" he said.

Crary, a rancher, said a large part of his marketing strategy is the wildness of the area. Local outfitters and tourists also need to be considered.

Ray Anderson worked on a rig in the 60s.

"The engines would be revving up, and the deer would just walk by," he said.

Anderson said he doesn't believe drilling will have a negative impact on wildlife.

Anderson and Dan Lindseth both also said Teton County must capitalize on its resources to help the tax base.

ITEM #4

FOREST CONSERVATION ACTION ALERT

Protect Montana's Rocky Mountain Front

By Forests.org, Inc. - http://forests.org/

May 10, 2004

TAKE ACTION:

Protest Bush's "Leave No Wilderness Behind" Energy Policy
http://forests.org/action/america/

Montana's Rocky Mountain Front is one of America's most important wilderness areas. But its continued existence as a large and operational ecosystem is threatened by the Bush Administration's rapacious "leave no wilderness behind" energy policy. The Front is where the east slope of the Montana Rockies - stretching for more than a hundred miles - suddenly merges with the prairies. The area is inhabited by a range of wildlife including grizzly bears, elk and bighorn sheep. Despite its environmental importance and fragility, President Bush is aggressively seeking to open this treasured natural landscape to oil and gas drilling. Last month the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated the review process required for new drilling permits on several existing leases located in the region's Blackleaf area. According to the government's own data, the Blackleaf leases contain less than a day's worth of natural gas and 15 minutes of oil for the nation. Let the Bureau of Land Management know that you do not support gas and oil exploration in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front. Further, make it known that the U.S. needs an energy policy that does not destroy large, operational ecosystems at home or abroad; and which is forward looking, emphasizing conservation and renewable energy.

Take Action and Forward Widely until the end of May, 2004
http://forests.org/action/america/

Notes: Because the alert is part of an official government feedback process, some original comments are required. The alert forwards to an updated appeal to Russia to ratify the Kyoto Treaty - a decision widely expected in coming weeks.
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