Bush Drops 'Roadless' Forest Rule; New Policy Emphasizes States' Role
Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Bush administration yesterday abandoned a sweeping Clinton-era rule that blocked road access to 56 million acres of national forests, saying the regulation has become bogged down in litigation from states and environmentalists.
The Forest Service instead will begin a process that gives the affected 39 states a major role in how "roadless" areas will be conserved and protected.
"The prospect of endless lawsuits represents neither progress nor certainty for communities," Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said.
"Our announcement today illustrates our commitment to working closely with the nation's governors to meet the needs of local communities and to maintaining the undeveloped character of the most pristine areas of the national forest system," Mrs. Veneman said.
The new rule gives governors and local communities an active role to determine which areas need road construction to access the forest and which areas need extra protection of "roadless" designation.
The new rule also would assure that private landholders within or near national forests have a say in the process to ensure continued access to their property.
The proposal was criticized by environmentalists, who called it a "crippling blow" to a popular policy.
"The Bush administration's announcement today will immediately imperil wild forests across the country, leaving them vulnerable to commercial timber sales and road building," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "These wild forests are special places of national significance and need a national policy to ensure their proper management."
Critics of the Clinton rule, which was imposed in the final days of his administration, called it a haphazard plan that, in trying to stop timber thinning, also blocked the access needed to prevent and fight forest fires and maintain critical infrastructure, such as dams and utilities. …