Federal rebukes Forest Service but won’t block plan for now
BOISE, Idaho (AP) – A federal judge said on Thursday the U.S. Forest Service violated public disclosure requirements before approving a Clinton administration plan to put 58 million acres of roadless forest land nationwide off-limits to logging.
The judge said there was ”strong evidence” that the process was hurried and the Forest Service was not prepared to produce a ”coherent proposal or meaningful dialogue and that the end result was predetermined.” He said the service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge rejected, however, a call by Idaho for an immediate block on the plan, saying he would decide after reviewing a status report from the Bush administration due on May 4.
The roadless policy is to go into effect May 12, delayed two months by the Bush White House in order to review the plan that has been condemned by Western state Republicans and the timber industry.
Supporters of the Clinton initiative said the judge was wrong.
”This was a process that was very open, and that in fact had more comments from citizens than any other rule ever developed,” said Doug Honnold, a lawyer for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents the Idaho Conservation League and other environmental groups in the case.
Idaho Attorney General Al Lance said he hoped Lodge’s order would convince the Bush administration to abandon the roadless initiative entirely.
”I’d say, ‘Let’s bag it. Let’s go back to the drawing board. There’s no sense in beating this dead horse.’ And if they want roadless rules, let’s do it right next time,” he said.
The Forest Service issued its final environmental impact statement on the roadless plan last November. The Idaho Land Board sued in January, arguing that it had been kept in the dark about which lands would remain roadless. The Clinton administration began studying the policy in October 1999.
Another suit before Lodge, in tandem with the state’s claim, was filed by a consortium including the wood-products company Boise Cascade Corp., two Idaho counties, snowmobile advocates, Emmett, Idaho, rancher Brad Little and the Kootenai Tribe.
The state and that coalition contend federal officials did not ask for enough public involvement, offering only about a two-month comment period on a document 700 pages long and involving about 2 percent of the U.S. land mass.
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