With the clock ticking down on his presidency, Bill Clinton
ordered that nearly one-third of America's national forests be made
off limits to logging, mining, and road-building.
To some, the action - which covers an area the size of Oregon -
is historic, signaling an official end to destructive policies that
began more than 150 years ago with the opening of the Western
frontier. To others, the proposal is unreasonable, skirts the
authority of Congress, and could put thousands of Westerners out of
It's being called one of the most sweeping environmental plans of
the past 100 years, potentially placing Mr. Clinton in the company
of conservation president Theodore Roosevelt. Coming just two
months before the administration is scheduled to leave office, it
also represents one of the president's final major opportunities to
leave a lasting mark.
"In terms of securing the nation's wild heritage for future
generations, this is almost as momentous as when the forest system
was created a century ago," says Chris Wood, a senior Forest
Service adviser in Washington.
The 58.5 million-acre roadless-protection plan is even bigger and
farther reaching than the original proposal unveiled in May. It
reduces the total volume of trees that can be cut, essentially
closing the door on any aspirations to renew the logging campaigns
of old. And significantly, it extends preservation to millions of
acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which has been a key
battleground for logging-rights for more than 20 years.
Yet it also appeases some critics by allowing for management -
including the thinning of dense tree stands - to reduce the risk of
That, however, isn't nearly enough for some conservative Western
lawmakers, who are infuriated by the plan - and the administration's
recent unilateral designation of new national monuments.
The president's adversaries warn that these actions could incite
counter-maneuvers in Congress - even attempts by George W. Bush to
undo the roadless plan, should the governor win the White House.
"I don't think ... that unilateral administrative actions create
a lasting legacy, particularly when there is good reason to
overturn them," says Mark Rey, a senior staffer for Sen. Larry
Craig (R) of Idaho.
While he says protecting wildlife is good, it's what happens to
people who make their living in the forest that worries him. That's
especially true in the Tongass, the nation's largest temperate
"I don't think [the Clinton administration] cares how many jobs
are lost," says Mr. …