After dodging and feinting, contradicting itself in court, and blowing more smoke than Vesuvius, the Bush administration finally revealed its true intentions with respect to nearly 60 million acres of wild lands in the national forests. The proposal: A full scale return to the bad old days of clearcut-and-run.
The announcement came on July 12, 2004—something of an oddity in itself, in that July 12 was a Monday and this administration is a devotee of the technique of announcing controversial decisions quietly on Friday afternoons to minimize press coverage. But Monday it was, a press conference in Boise, Idaho, attended by Ann Veneman, the Secretary of Agriculture; Mark Rey, her undersecretary and former timber-company lobbyist; Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho's governor; and Larry Craig, Idaho's senior Senator and one of the upper house's staunchest foes of all things environmental, particularly the roadless rule.
The four horsepersons of the apocalypse for forests announced that the so-called Roadless Area Conservation Rule would be replaced with a new proposal more to their liking. Their new rule would invite governors to file petitions outlining how they would like to see roadless areas in national forests in their states managed. They could call for protection for roadless areas, or exploitation of the areas, anything they want. They would have 18 months to work up their petitions. The Agriculture Secretary would then decide which of the petitions she (or, now that Ms. Veneman has moved on, he) would give more thorough consideration to via a formal rulemaking. Given the proclivities of this administration it's not difficult to guess which petitions would be handled which way. If a governor filed no petition, management would revert to the regime that was the status quo that led up to the Roadless Rule and made it necessary.
There's another twist that has not yet been well enough understood. Many individual forest management plans contain various kinds and degrees of protection for millions of roadless acres that preceded the roadless rule. Through this new "roadless values" proposal, these areas could now lose those protections, putting the forests at far greater risk than even before the Roadless Rule was adopted.
The replacement rule was announced on May 5, 2005, the day after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments in the appeal of an injunction issued by a judge in Wyoming, one the cases the administration walked away from. The new rule then appeared in the Federal Register on May 12. Earthjustice lawyers vowed to fight the new rule on a variety of fronts.