USA: Clinton Preserves Pristine Roadless National Forests

Publisher Name: 
Environment News Service

WASHINGTON, DC -- In a move that ranks among the most
significant environmental policy initiatives in U.S. history, President Bill
Clinton today announced the adoption of a comprehensive strategy that bans
road construction and commercial logging on nearly 60 million acres of U.S.
Forest Service land.

Speaking at a news conference at the National Arboretum in Washington,
Clinton said that the new policy will insure that the pristine forest lands
will remain "unspoiled by bulldozers, undisturbed by chain saws and
untouched for our children."

"This is about preserving the land which the American people own, for the
American people who are not around yet," Clinton said. "Not everyone can
travel to the great palaces of the world, but everyone can enjoy the majesty
of our great forests."

The new policy, which Clinton first proposed in 1999, will prohibit road
building and commercial logging on 58.5 million acres of inventoried
roadless areas throughout the national forest system.

The policy was drafted to reflect the environmental importance of roadless
areas, which provide critical habitat for a vast array of fish and
wildlife, including more than
200 plant and animal species protected or proposed for protection under the
federal Endangered Species Act.

Conservation groups were quick to hail the new roadless rule, which will
extend strong environmental protections to an area greater in size than all
of the country's national parks combined.

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope called the rule the "greatest land
protection victory in a generation," and he praised the outgoing president
for "leaving a legacy of wild forests for all Americans who love to hunt, hike, fish and camp."

"Today's announcement is a victory for us all - for everyone who has ever
walked in a forest, for the millions of us who rely on our national forests
for clean drinking water, and for future generations," Pope said.

REBUBLICANS VOW TO UNDO THE RULE

But the logging and mining industries renewed their vigorous and long
standing objections to the rule, and a host of influential Republican
lawmakers on Capitol Hill promised overturn the new roadless policy. Utah
Congressman Jim Hansen, the newly elected chairman of the powerful House
Resource Committee, said the outgoing Clinton administration has imposed an
"arbitrary, illegal road ban over a third of this nation's national forests."

"As chairman of the Resource Committee, I will make it a priority to undo
this kind of reckless, last minute maneuvering," Hansen said. "The American
people deserve thoughtful, rational policies that allow local management and
public enjoyment of their own lands. They don't deserve this last minute
manipulation and grandstanding by a man desperate for a legacy."

Hansen has vowed to hold Congressional hearings on the "illegal" roadless
rule within the next 60 days.

Hansen's call for a review of the rule was echoed by Senator Frank
Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and the chairman of the Senate's Energy
and Environment Committee. Murkowski pronounced the roadless rule to be
"fatally flawed," and he predicted that it will be overturned by the courts.

"In light of the numerous legal violations committed in the development of
this rule, I am quite confident that it will be overturned," Murkowski said.

Murkowski and a host of other Western Republican lawmakers have informed
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman that they intend to exercise their
authority under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Act to closely
review the legality of the rule.

The lawmakers have also threatened to call for a Congressional resolution
to overturn the rule, and to send the measure back to the Forest Service to
"do it right."

Murkowski has for months complained that the Forest Service made numerous
mistakes in reviewing the administration's roadless proposal, which
generated the largest volume of public comments in the history of the
agency.

TONGASS LOOMS LARGE IN THE DEBATE

Murkowski said the roadless policy would be especially devastating for
timber harvesting activities in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the
nation's largest. Roadless areas in the Tongass, which had been exempted
from the road building and commercial logging prohibitions in earlier drafts of the policy, are now subject to those restrictions, with certain exceptions.

When the roadless policy is fully implemented in the Tongass after April
2004, timber production will drop by more than 50 percent, Murkowski said.

Murkowski said the policy will result in the loss of nearly 400 jobs, with
payroll losses topping $17 million. The road building ban will also result
in the elimination of 141 Forest Service jobs, which represent an additional
payroll of more than $7 million, Murkowski said.

"The Forest Service acknowledges that this proposal will have a greater
impact on Alaska than anywhere else in the country," Murkowski said.

Murkowski, Hansen and other federal lawmakers have all claimed that the
roadless policy will increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Mike
Klein, a spokesperson for the American Forest & Paper Association, echoed
that view.

"It's devastating for the health of the forests," Klein said of the roadless
policy. "It basically builds a wall around 60 million acres, and that means
scientists can't get in to treat diseased areas, it means that firefighters
can't get in to put out fires, it means that forest managers can't get in to
manage the forest."

Klein noted that timber production from the national forest system has
already been reduced about 75 percent in the last eight years, so he predicted
that the roadless ban will have the most impact on smaller logging
companies. Klein added that the ban will hurt rural school districts, which
reap revenues from timber sales conducted on the national forest system.

Hansen expressed a similar view. "President Clinton wanted to strike at
American logging and energy companies with this ban, but he's hit John Q.
Public even harder," the Utah Republican said. President Clinton has just
shut the American public out of 60 million
acres of their own land. This is one of the most offensive examples I've
seen of Washington, DC telling the rest of the country what's good for it."

WHITE HOUSE FIRES BACK

George Frampton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental
Quality, was quick to counter that view. Frampton said that the new roadless
rule was subjected to the "most robust public comment period ever," in which
more than 600 public meetings were conducted and more than 1.5 million
comments were reviewed by the Forest Service.

"This has proved to be overwhelmingly popular," Frampton said of the rule.

Any administration, to change the rule, will have to go through the full
formal process under a number of federal environmental laws. That will
involve scoping hearings and taking public comments all over again.
Frampton said, "That's a very long, detailed process. I think if it's
started, it is going to produce a great deal of public opposition."

Frampton dismissed charges that the roadless policy is too extreme, noting
that it does contain provisions for thinning trees to reduce wildfire
risks, and for restoring forest health.

Frampton downplayed the rule's effects on timber harvesting activities in
the Tongass National Forest, noting that certain timber sales already in
the "pipeline" in
that forest will be "grandfathered in" under the new roadless policy. The
grandfathering clause, Frampton said, will ensure that there will be a
steady supply of timber from roadless areas in that forest for the next
seven years.

Timber sales slated for roadless areas in other national forests will also
be grandfathered in under the new policy, but only if they have been
finalized with a record of decision, Frampton said.

Asked about how the new rule will effect the nation's supply of timber,
Frampton said, "If you take the Tongass out, there was very, very little
planned timber sale activity over the next five years in roadless areas.
Eighty percent of the national effect is Tongass, but the rest is pretty
negligible - you're talking about maybe a dozen timber sales a year at most
around the whole country."

Frampton downplayed the human impacts of those lost sales, saying that no
more than 200 jobs will be lost nationally.

Still, Frampton said that the Forest Service will propose a $72 million,
six year assistance program to ease the economic transition for affected
communities. Of that total, $38.5 million will be directed to help
communities in southeast Alaska, Frampton said.

Frampton dismissed fears that the new rule will increase the risk of
devastating wildfires, calling the allegation a "total red herring." He
noted that only a tiny portion of roadless areas have been classified as
being at high risk of wildfires. He emphasized that the new rule contains
provisions for thinning to take out fuel that would feed wildfires and
emergency access should it be required.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION HINTS AT ENVIRONMENTAL ROLL BACKS

Frampton denied that the rule is a last desperate effort to save the
pristine roadless areas from President-elect George W. Bush, whose
environmental record had been ridiculed by many in the conservation
community. Frampton said that the rule has been in the works for some time,
and that it is designed to "close the loop" on a process begun in the 1920s
by the great conservationist Aldo Leopold.

Clinton gave credit to Leopold in his remarks on Friday, saying, "When we see
the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love
and respect."

Asked if the country could expect the same kind of conservation commitment
from the incoming Bush administration, Frampton said, "I guess you'd have to
ask Gale Norton that question."

Norton, who formerly served as attorney general for the state of Colorado,
is Bush's nominee for Secretary of the Interior. Environmental groups have
been sharply critical of Norton, who has ties to James Watt, regarded
by many as the most anti-environmental Interior Secretary in the nation's
history.

Asked if the "specter" of a Norton Interior Department had prompted any of
the many conservation initiatives launched by the Clinton administration in
the waning weeks of its tenure, Frampton said, "Absolutely not - I can't
think of a single decision that we have planned ... that would be in the
slightest way different if Al Gore had been elected."

Frampton predicted that it would be difficult for the incoming Bush
administration to "roll back" the new roadless rule, or any of the 12 national
monuments that Clinton has created by use of the 1906 Antiquities Act.

"In past administrations there have been legal opinions to the effect that
the designation of a monument is the exercise of delegated legislative
power, so a subsequent administration cannot undo a monument by another
executive order," said Frampton. Still, he added, "I don't think that's ever
really been tested in court."

Except for boundary changes, no national monument has ever been undone by
another administration or Congress, Frampton noted.

"It obviously remains to be seen what Congress will do or what the
administration will do, but I hope in the end that they decide to move on to
some of the challenges of the future," Frampton said.

Asked if Bush would move to roll back or negate the flurry of environmental
initiatives launched by the Clinton administration in the waning weeks of
its term, Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, said, "It is the
president's prerogative to do as he sees fit."

Fleischer told reporters that the Bush team "will not comment on some of
these last minute executive orders that [Clinton] is pursuing." Fleischer
said, "We will review each and every one of them. We are taking note of
them."

AMP Section Name:CorpWatch