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'Roadless Rule' Forest Logging Ban Officially Lifted

States gain more control over logging in national forests

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On May 5, 2005, the Clinton Administration's regulatory ban on logging on some 58.5 million acres of national forest land was officially abandoned, leaving the use and protection of much of America's most pristine natural areas up to the governors of 12 Western states.

One of the most important environmental conservation acts of Clinton's presidency, the so-called roadless initiative rule banned road building, logging and logging industry development on over 31% of all national forest land, with 97% of the affected land located in Alaska and 11 other Western states.

Under the new rule, governors of states with national forest lands must, within 18 months, propose to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which forest lands should remain off-limits to logging and which should be made available for "other uses." When the roadless rule was enacted in 2001, Governors of several of the affected Western states vowed to get it overturned.  Should a governor choose not to make a forest protection proposal to the USDA, management of the state's national forest lands will revert to the 10-year guidelines already established for each U.S. national forest. Under those existing guidelines, about 60% of the 58 million acres once protected as roadless forest by the Clinton-era rule would become available for logging and related development.

States with roadless forest lands in the balance include:

Alaska -- 14,779,000 acres
Idaho -- 9,322,000 acres
Montana -- 6,397,000 acres
Colorado -- 4,433,000 acres
California -- 4,416,000 acres
Utah -- 4,013,000 acres
Wyoming -- 3,257,000 acres
Nevada -- 3,186,000 acres
Washington -- 2,015,000 acres
Oregon -- 1,965,000 acres
New Mexico -- 1,597,000 acres
Arizona -- 1,174,000 acres

Reaction: A little pro, more con

The Bush administration's decision to scrap the roadless rule was applauded by the American Forest & Paper Association. "This new rule gives Governors the opportunity to work with the Forest Service to identify special and unique places in their states and then create broadly supported plans for conservation and preservation," said American Forest & Paper Association president and CEO W. Henson Moore in a press release. "The Forest Service has worked hard to get to this point, and I think their diligence has paid off with a thoughtful, legal, and effective plan to protect our nation’s true roadless areas."

The League of Conservative voters (LCV) accused President Bush of "selling out" to the logging industry. In a press release, LCV President Deb Callahan declared, "By finalizing its repeal of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Bush administration is once again selling out to the logging and timber industry instead of siding with the American people, who want to protect our last wild forests." Callahan pointed out that the Forest Service had received over 4 million comments from the public in support of continuing the roadless rule. "The rule also enjoys broad support among members of Congress, governors, local officials, businesses, hunters and anglers, scientists, economists, and religious organizations," added Callahan.

Several environmental protection groups joined in criticizing the end of the roadless rule. "By formally repealing the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Bush administration is, yet again, doing its hardest to ignore over 4 million public comments in support of wild forest protection as well as an exceptionally strong ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the legality of the rule," stated Sierra Club National Forest Policy Specialist Sean Cosgrove. "Instead of finding ways to provide millions of dollars in subsidies to the timber industry, the government should be working to permanently protect all remaining roadless areas in each state and across the National Forest System," said Cosgrove, adding, "These are areas of national significance and they deserve a single, nation-wide policy to protect them--not a piecemeal state-by-state approach."

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