Clinton Preserves Pristine Roadless National Forests - Republicans Vow to Undo the Rule
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Clinton Preserves Pristine Roadless National Forests - Republicans Vow to Undo the Rule
By Brian Hansen
WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - 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
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
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
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
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, 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
"This has proved to be overwhelmingly popular," Frampton said of the
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
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
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
"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."
More information on the new roadless rule can be found online at:
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