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Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Roadless areas rule could be overturned

Bush administration proposes to empower governors on management

To get involved:

Written comments will be taken for 60 days. Mail comments to: Content Analysis Team, Attn: Roadless State Petitions, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122.

Fax comments to (801) 517-1014.

E-mail comments to: [email protected]


Express Staff Writer

Under a Bush administration plan released this week, state governors could be empowered on federal public lands issues like logging, road building and road-free area protection.

At the Idaho state capitol on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman joined Sen. Larry Craig and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to announce the proposed rule, which would replace the Clinton administrationís 2001 road-building ban in road-free portions of national forests.

Of the 48 contiguous states, Idaho has the most at stake. Idaho has 9.3 million acres of road-free federal land, about 17 percent of the state. Idaho also filed the first of nine lawsuits challenging the Clinton era regulations.

Kempthorne, who orchestrated the filing of the stateís lawsuit, said he was pleased with the new proposal.

"I never disagreed with the concept that some federal lands in Idaho should be designated as roadless areas," he said. "But when the previous administration tried to implement their rule in 2001, it ignored the sovereign states and denied us any input into the process."

But supporters of Clintonís road-free policy said the new proposal ignores the general publicís overwhelming show of support for the 2001 policy.

In drafting the original road-free policy, the Forest Service held two rounds of public hearings. Seven federal agencies collaborated. More than 180 Native American groups were consulted. More than 600 public meetings were held nationwide, and an estimated 25,000 people attended. The Forest Service received about 500,000 favorable comments on the initial proposal and 1.1 million favorable comments on the final proposal.

The Clinton rule supporters also said the Bush administration is continuing to play politics with anything attached to the name of former President Bill Clinton, a political whipping boy for the right wing.

"Folks pretty clearly said they wanted roadless areas undeveloped," said Craig Gehrke, Idaho director of The Wilderness Society. "Itís being driven by a lot of politics. Theyíll deny that, but from our standpoint, this is much different from what we originally had."

Idaho Conservation League Forest Specialist John Robison reiterated that Americans have already spoken very clearly on the issue.

"Now, with no public process whatsoever, this administration is preparing to hand these special places over to the logging and mining corporations," he said.

The new proposal would allow governors to petition the U.S. Forest Service to establish road-free rules within their borders. The proposals would be developed in cooperation with the Forest Service and be subject to the approval of a regional forester.

The process would allow governors to propose opening road-free areas to logging, mining, oil or gas development. It would also allow governors to recommend designating road-free areas as wilderness.

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register this week, and there will be a 60-day comment period before a final rule is issued after the Forest Service evaluates public comments.

Western Republicans and Bush administration officials announced Monday their satisfaction with the new, proposed rule.

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

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is on board, too.

"This new roadless initiative begins with a much stronger chance to succeed because it offers local input and suggestions from stakeholders, land use managers, local elected officials and state leaders," he said. "Collaborative efforts closest to the ground are the key to wise public lands management and eliminating gridlock."

Craig was sure to mention the contrast between the two administrations.

"The Bush administration is wiping the slate clean and erasing Clintonís legacy of locking up our land," he said. "The Clinton roadless rule further polarized the public land debate, with the only benefactors being the fundraisers of environmental groups."


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