Bush delays logging ban by two months
A ban on road building and most logging in a third of the country’s national forests was delayed for two months Monday by the Bush administration.
The forest plan, which President Clinton announced Jan. 4, has been attacked by Republican Western lawmakers, and by energy, timber and mining industries.
The delay is in line with an order President Bush made on taking office last month to halt or slow down a series of regulations and rules the Clinton administration issued in its final days.
The forest restrictions were published in the Federal Register before Bush took office, so he can’t block or alter them without going through a new rule-making process. The Forest Service held 600 hearings and received 1.7 million comments while developing the plan.
Monday’s action changes the plan’s effective date from March 13 to May 12.
Lake Tahoe U.S. Forest Service officials aren’t bothered too much by the delay.
“This whole roadless issue doesn’t have huge impacts for us anyway,” said Linda Massey, public information officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “If this is the administration’s position then we’ll honor it. It’s not something we’re terribly concerned with.”
Only 4,000 of the 46,000 acres of national forest land inside the Tahoe Basin would be affected by the road-building ban. The remaining 42,000 acres are already managed as roadless.
The forest plan is still under review by the Agriculture Department, said USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz. ”No decision has been made,” he said.
Sierra Club spokesman Sean Cosgrove said the delay buys the administration some time while they decide how to roll it back.
”I don’t know exactly what the Bush administration thinks they need to review or what they want to look at except at how they can take it apart,” he said.
Under the plan, the Forest Service will ban road-building in 58.5 million acres of federal forests where no roads currently exist, including 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
The regulations also will limit future logging in those areas to activities that ”restore and preserve” the forest, although commercial timber contracts already in the government pipeline will be allowed to go through.
The chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has appealed to Bush to work with Congress on rolling back the plan. Hansen called the logging restrictions ”one of the most egregious abuses by the Clinton administration.”
Several senators opposed to the plan have said they will use a never-invoked 1996 law that allows Congress to rescind a regulation within 60 legislative days of it being published. The deadline for lawmakers to act on the rule will depend on the congressional schedule over the coming weeks.
The Clinton administration said the impact on the timber industry would be minimal because there is relatively little logging in the roadless areas even though they account for 31 percent of all federal forests.
On the Net: Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us
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