Government announces plan to open roadless forest areas

by Bob Fick

The Associated Press

Monday, July 12, 2004

Boise, Idaho - The Bush administration today proposed a new plan to open up roadless areas of national forests to more logging, confirming a draft plan published two weeks ago.

Under the plan, announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman at the Idaho state Capitol, governors would have to petition the federal government to block road-building needed for logging in remote areas of national forests.

The rule replaces one adopted by the Clinton administration and still under challenge in federal court. It covers about 58 million of the 191 million acres of national forest nationwide.

Idaho was one of the first states to challenge the so-called roadless rule in federal court.

"Strong state and federal cooperation in the management of roadless areas will foster improved local involvement in the process," Veneman said.

For nearly two years, the Bush administration has been weighing changes to the roadless rule, which blocks road construction in nearly one-third of national forests as a way to prevent logging and other commercial activity.

Officials call the new roadless policy a common-sense plan that protects backcountry woods while advancing a partnership with the nation's governors, particularly in the West.

The Natural Resources Defense Council made its opposition clear even before the official announcement.

"This is a roadblock to roadless protection," spokeswoman Amy Mall said. "The administration is not concerned about states' rights."


Click here http://roadless.fs.fed.us/ for the complete text of the
proposed Forest Service rules on roadless areas and more government information on the policy.

Veneman, whose department includes the Forest Service, made the announcement flanked by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, both Republicans.

As part of the plan, the administration said it would reinstate an interim rule for the next 18 months, requiring that Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth approve any new road construction in previously protected areas.

The administration had let the interim rule lapse last year as it considered a permanent rule to replace the Clinton policy.

As a practical matter, officials said they expect few, if any, changes in roadless policy during the next 18 months, noting that Bosworth did not approve a single new road during the two-plus years the interim directive was in place.

Environmentalists howled when the draft rule was made public earlier this month. Without a national policy against road construction, they said, forest management will revert to individual forest plans that in many cases allow roads and other development on most of the 58 million acres now protected by the roadless rule.

Environmentalists say it is unlikely that governors in pro-logging states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Utah will seek to keep the roadless rule in effect.

Kempthorne is among several Republican governors in the West who have strongly criticized the rule, calling it an unnecessary restriction that has locked up millions of acres from logging and other economic development.

Citing such complaints, the Bush administration said last year it would develop a plan to allow governors to seek exemptions from the roadless rule. The latest plan turns that on its head by requiring governors to petition the Agriculture Department if they want to protect against timbering in their state.

The Clinton administration adopted the roadless rule during its final days in office in January 2001, calling it important protection for backcountry forests.

Environmentalists hailed that action, but the timber industry and some Republican lawmakers have criticized it as overly intrusive and even dangerous, saying it has left millions of acres exposed to catastrophic wildfires.

Federal judges have twice struck down the 3-year-old rule, most recently in a Wyoming case decided in July 2003. That case, which
environmentalists have appealed, is one of several pending legal challenges, complicating efforts to issue a new plan.

The new plan will be published in the Federal Register this week, with a 60-day comment period extending into September.

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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