Forest Service prepares changes to deal with roadless rule
WASHINGTON (AP) – Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth would get more authority to allow logging or road-building in national forests under a draft plan crafted by agency officials.
The plan, circulated Tuesday by the environmentalist Heritage Forests Campaign, would formalize the way the Forest Service handles a Clinton-era plan to protect a third of all national forest lands.
Environmentalists view the draft as a way to chip away at the ”roadless rule” and reopen national forests to logging. But Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch said that’s not the case.
”There are some slight changes,” she said.
The Clinton administration rule protected 58.5 million acres of national forest land from development, and was hailed by most environmental groups. But some timber industry and off-road vehicle groups said the policy was too restrictive.
The Bush administration also considered the policy flawed, and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in May promised to amend it, specifically to allow more local ideas. Veneman oversees the Forest Service.
A short time later, a federal judge blocked implementation of the amended policy, saying it would cause ”irreparable harm” to federal forests. Last month the Bush administration opened a 60-day public comment period, after which it will issue revisions.
In a June memo, Bosworth said he would take responsibility for decisions on timber harvests and road construction, giving the officials who oversee individual forests a chance to map existing roads and determine appropriate protections. Once local officials get approval for plans to enforce those protections, Bosworth will no longer make the decisions from the top.
The draft plan mirrors that language.
Environmentalists are concerned the timber industry and other groups will have unfair influence over local officials, and that the Bush administration is predisposed to side with them over conservationists.
”This seems to really solidify the administration’s intent to scuttle the national forest protections and revert back to a piecemeal approach that gives the timber industry the upper hand in determining the fate of our forests,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.
She also is concerned about the amount of time the draft indicates the interim process will be in place – 2 years. But Valetkevitch said she expects the timetable was established only to be on the ”safe side.”
”We are trying to get roadless (areas) dealt with as quickly as possible,” she said.
On the Net:
Forest Service’s Roadless Plan: http://www.roadless.fs.fed.us
Heritage Forests Campaign: http://www.ourforests.org/
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