Forest Service chief takes control of road decisions on pristine lands
WASHINGTON (AP) – Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth is assuming authority over road-building and logging in a third of the national forests while the Bush administration revises a Clinton-era ban on those activities.
In a memo issued Thursday, Bosworth instructed Forest Service officials to consider long-term protection of roadless areas as they make scheduled revisions to the forests’ management plans.
Bosworth will have authority over timber harvests and road construction in roadless areas until officials overseeing forests have a chance to map existing roads and get approval for possible revisions to the management plans, the memo said.
This could mean that some roadless areas become permanent wilderness, Bosworth wrote.
But one environmental group active in forest protection interpreted the memo as a go-ahead to the logging industry to begin commercial logging and road construction in the national forests. It blamed the White House.
”The president has made clear he wants to exploit these lands for more logging, mining and oil and gas drilling,” said Steve Holmer, campaign coordinator for American Lands Alliance.
Administration officials are grappling with a Clinton-era ban on almost all logging and road-building on 58.5 million acres of national forests, an area more than twice the size of Ohio. Some call it the ”roadless rule.”
The Bush administration suspended implementation of the rule shortly after President Bush’s inauguration and promised in May to revise it to allow local officials more say in decisions. Bosworth has said decisions should be on a forest-by-forest basis.
Also in May, when the Clinton rule was to have taken effect, a federal judge in Idaho blocked it.
Bosworth wrote that he offered the direction in the memo because the policy is the subject of eight lawsuits in seven states.
”It is necessary for the agency to act decisively, proactively, and with common sense to ensure that our efforts to protect roadless values will not be confined to legal proceedings in courtrooms scattered throughout the country,” he said.
David Tenny, acting deputy undersecretary for the Agriculture Department, said the memo speaks for itself and would not elaborate.
”He (Bosworth) says he is trying to do something proactive because the outcome of the litigation is uncertain,” Tenny said, adding that he expects that the Forest Service still would offer revisions to the policy. The agency is part of the Agriculture Department.
Some other environmentalists said this could be viewed as a setback because it puts decisions back in the hands of local officials.
”The roadless rule was developed and put into effect precisely because the forest planning process led to the devastation of so many wild forest areas. Returning to that process does not bode well for our national forests,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.
Some in the timber industry were heartened that the memo means the agency is on a path the industry likes. The industry wants decisions to be made at the local level, rather than through a sweeping national policy.
But, said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, the administration still has not officially revised the roadless rule.
”They still have to do something to get the rule to go away,” he added.
Many of the areas that would have been protected under the rule are in the West, although they span from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest.
On the Net: Forest Service’s Roadless Plan: http://www.roadless.fs.fed.us
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