Forest Service won’t propose amendments to road ban in June
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration needs more time to propose revisions to a ban on logging and road construction in one-third of national forests, an official said Thursday.
Initially, the administration said it would propose amendments to the Clinton-era road ban by the end of June.
”The Forest Service expects to make an announcement as soon as possible,” agency spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch said Thursday, but ”we are not ready to make an announcement just yet.”
The road ban, which covered an area more than twice the size of Ohio, was a key piece of the Clinton administration’s environmental legacy. As drafted, it would rope off 58.5 million acres from developers, loggers and mining companies.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who oversees the agency, said in May that the administration would propose amendments this month. At the time, she said the revisions were needed to address a lack of local input during the creation of the policy.
Rather than offering proposed revisions, sources familiar with efforts to revise the rule say they expect that the agency will first ask for public comment on some broad questions related to the policy, often called the ”roadless rule.”
Valetkevitch said the agency hoped to seek the public’s input by mid-July.
Once the agency reviews the responses, then it could be expected to propose amendments to the policy, the sources said.
Environmental interests want to keep the rule as designed by the Clinton administration. Some criticized the Bush administration for missing its own deadline.
”The administration is surreptitiously rolling back this very popular conservation rule in order to avoid the political consequences,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.
The roadless rule is the subject of eight lawsuits in seven states. In May, a federal judge in Boise, Idaho, blocked the implementation of the policy.
The Democratic Policy Committee issued a report Thursday criticizing the administration for undercutting national forest protections, including the roadless rule and two other forest management issues.
”The Bush administration appears intent on protecting special interests and ignoring public support for strong environmental protections and conservation measures in our national forests,” the report said.
Agriculture Department spokesman Kevin Herglotz hadn’t seen the report and declined to comment on the specifics. However, he said a variety of interests have expressed support for the administration’s approach to national forest policy.
”We’ve moved forward on a lot of really important issues, striking a balance and making certain local interests are considered when looking at forest service programs,” he said.
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