WASHINGTON (May 4, 2001) - The Bush administration's announcement today that it is upholding the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is a public relations ploy designed to obscure the fact that it is doing just the opposite, said NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). By allowing local forest managers to opt out on a case-by-case basis, the administration has struck a blow at the heart of the rule's intent.
"This is a sneak attack," said Nathaniel Lawrence, NRDC senior attorney. "The Bush administration claims to be keeping the roadless rule in place, but it is opening an exemption that will kill it."
The administration has twice delayed the final rule, which would have prohibited road building and most logging on 58.5 million acres of national forest lands -- the last pristine forests left in the United States. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the administration would propose amendments to the rule next month to address "concerns raised by local communities, tribes and states impacted by the rule."
In fact, the rule was designed to shield the forests from local decisions on the two most damaging activities in roadless areas: industrial logging and road building. "We've had local decisionmaking for decades," said Lawrence. "That's what got us into trouble in the first place. We've had one local decision after another -- one timber sale after another -- punching more and more roads into the last of our wild forests. This is exactly the same old system, and it may well plunge us back into the timber wars."
As adopted by the Clinton administration, the existing rule still would leave a multitude of decisions about roadless areas in local hands. Local forest service officials would still decide about grazing, off road vehicle (ORV) use, access for hardrock mining, emergency roads, logging of small diameter trees and firewood, and many other uses. In the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, local officials would have discretion to continue logging roadless areas at current rates for at least seven more years.
The roadless rule was the result of a two-year process, which included 600 public meetings and a record-breaking 1.6 million public comments, the vast majority of which supported it.
"The Bush administration is out of touch with the American people when it comes to the environment," said Lawrence. "After making a tiny nod to the environment in the week before Earth Day, the president is back to his real agenda, which is to give away our public resources to corporate polluters and timber and mining interests."