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Bush Ends Ban on Roads in National Forest

This is a lift on the ban that protected many national forests from being harmed by logging, road development....

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Re: Bush Ends Ban on Roads in National Forest

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sorry about that.

By Bettina Boxall, Times Staff Writer

The Bush administration announced Thursday that it was dropping a wide-ranging Clinton administration rule that had placed nearly a third of the country's national forestland off-limits to road building, logging and oil and gas development.

The move was denounced by Democrats and environmentalists and was likely to keep alive a battle over the future of 58.5 million acres of some of the country's most remote and pristine wild lands.

The administration is replacing the road ban started by President Clinton with a regulation that gives governors considerable influence over the fate of federal backcountry, most of which is in the West and Alaska.

The administration has been signaling its displeasure with the roadless rule for several years, and late last year proposed the policy that was formally announced Thursday.

States will have 18 months to petition the federal government to open the lands to roads and development or to keep them protected. The final decision will be up to the secretary of Agriculture.

The road ban, considered the most sweeping conservation move of the Clinton administration, set off a round of lawsuits still playing out in courts. Some Western governors and the timber industry condemned the prohibition, saying it had carved a huge wilderness area out of public lands that should be open to a variety of uses.

In announcing the new rule, which will take effect in a few days, administration officials said they hoped it would resolve conflicts by giving states a voice.

"The way [the Clinton rule] was done developed a substantial amount of ill will," said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark E. Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

He predicted that in many states the rule would result in only minor changes to roadless protections, and said the Forest Service was not hatching grand road-building schemes.

"We don't have a large backlog of plans to construct new roads," Rey said. "There isn't a large number of forest engineers sitting at their desks today wearing out No. 2 pencils" planning them.

Rey said the Clinton prohibitions included more than 2 million acres where roads had been built and precluded fire prevention work near rural towns.

Environmentalists scoffed at that argument, saying most of the land near development — where fire prevention measures were most needed — was not federally owned.

"They are going to target roadless areas that have commercial timber that industry is interested in, and the pro-industry governors in Western states are going to help them," said Sean Cosgrove, the Sierra Club's national forest specialist. "Today's announcement is just one more lousy proposal from the administration put in the context of the entire assault on the national forests."

Around the West, reaction was divided, as it was when Clinton issued the roadless ban at the end of his administration.

In Alaska, Idaho and Montana — the states with the largest amounts of roadless forest — governors welcomed a role.

"It's a hotly debated item, but what we're going to see out of this, I think, is an effort by this administration to balance the areas that don't have roads in them and allow other areas to have road access," said Alaska Gov. Frank H. Murkowski, a Republican.

Many Alaskans say the new policy will leave the state's Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the world, vulnerable to intensive logging.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who has tangled with the Bush administration over proposed gas and oil drilling in his state, called the new regulations "an antienvironment decision that is going to have long-term consequences."

"The administration likes to play a shell game with governors," Richardson said. "They want to give us input on the roadless issue, but when it comes to drilling on protected areas, they don't want to give us input. This is just a shell game to drill, [cut] more timber. It's going to start a war in the West, I believe."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement that he wanted the state's 4.4 million acres of roadless forest to remain protected and that he had the Forest Service's assurance of that.

Schwarzenegger was criticized by environmentalists and the state's Democratic congressional delegation last year for failing to defend the Clinton ban and for saying the state would not file a petition to retain roadless protections. At the time, the governor said he preferred to work with the Forest Service as it revised management plans for California's 18 national forests.

On Thursday, California Resources Agency spokesman Sandy Cooney said the governor believed the Forest Service had agreed not to develop roadless areas in the state, but "if we have to file a petition" to ensure that, "we will do that."

Every national forest in California has roadless acreage. Some of the largest chunks are in the Los Padres National Forest, where gas and oil reserves threaten to bring development.

"I think it's a positive sign the governor is willing to say publicly these areas should be protected," said Sara Barth, the Wilderness Society's regional director. "But I'm not necessarily confident he's going to stand up to the Bush administration and make sure those areas are actually protected."



No longer off-limits

The Bush administration' announcement that it is dropping a Clinton-era ban on road building and development on 58.5 million acres of backcountry throws into question the future of nearly one-third of the country's national forest land. U.S. Forest Service roadless land is in 38 states and Puerto Rico, but most of it is in 12 Western states:

Current roadless acreage

Alabama: 13,000

Alaska: 14,779,000

Arizona: 1,174,000

Arkansas: 95,000

California: 4,416,000

Colorado: 4,433,000

Florida: 50,000

Georgia: 63,000

Idaho: 9,322,000

Illinois: 11,000

Indiana: 8,000

Kentucky: 3,000

Louisiana: 7,000

Maine: 6,000

Michigan: 16,000

Minnesota: 62,000

Mississippi: 3,000

Missouri: 25,000

Montana: 6,397,000

Nevada: 3,186,000

New Hampshire: 235,000

New Mexico: 1,597,000

North Carolina: 172,000

North Dakota: 266,000

Oklahoma: 13,000

Oregon: 1,965,000

Pennsylvania: 25,000

Puerto Rico: 24,000

South Carolina: 8,000

South Dakota: 80,000

Tennessee: 85,000

Texas: 4,000

Utah: 4,013,000

Vermont: 25,000

Virginia: 394,000

Washington: 2,015,000

West Virginia: 202,000

Wisconsin: 69,000

Wyoming: 3,257,000

TOTAL: 58,518,000

Sources: U.S. Forest Service, ESRI, Associated Press


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