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For the week of January 10 through January 16, 2001

Finish off the finishing myth

The ink was barely dry on President Clinton’s rule limiting road building and logging in roadless forests, when the howl went up.

Idaho’s governor declared that the state will sue the federal government to invalidate the rule. Idaho’s senators have vowed that Congress will change the rule, which was thoroughly vetted in public hearings and which has nationwide public support.

The administration rule bans road building and logging on 58 million acres of federal land, 9.4 million in Idaho alone. The rule makes it possible for the federal government to take care of existing roads instead of building costly new ones. It also protects wild areas from damaging development.

It’s a "conservative" rule. It recognizes that the U.S. Forest Service can’t afford to take care of the roads already on federal land. It recognizes that new roads destroy wild country. Yet, that’s not the way many in the party that will soon occupy the White House see it.

The new chairman of the House Resources Committee, James Hansen R-Utah, is taking aim at the rule and the rest of the Clinton legacy. He has compiled a hit list for review including 11 national monuments, oil drilling and mining restrictions, bans on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and other national parks, fly-overs of the Grand Canyon and other parks, a ban on personal water craft, oil and gas royalty formulas, and the roadless rule.

The moves to destroy the Clinton legacy are misguided.

Historians tell us that development in the American West was based on a finishing myth—the idea that the world as it existed was unfinished without the works of man to make it "better."

The trouble is all works of man are not created equal and "better" has proven to be in the eye of the beholder.

The idea that any work of man in any location—a road, for example--is a good work is indisputably misguided. Witness the polluted silted rivers of the West.

Worse, the idea is harmful because it allows development with no thought of tomorrow and its consequences—loss of wild species and loss of clean water and air.

Those who subscribed to the finishing myth had gone too far when Clinton came into office.

The new administration should think twice before undoing the Clinton legacy. Idaho and the rest of the nation should try to live with the new roadless rule before trying to change it.

There’s more involved than partisan politics and a president’s ego. The nation must choose between two endings for the myth: Finish off the myth or finish off what’s left of the wild places of earth.




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