Washington, DC – Reacting to indications from the Bush Administration that it intends to roll back protections for the nation's national forests, leaders from Congress and the environmental and religious communities today held a press conference on Capitol Hill to demand full and immediate implementation of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Signed on January 5, 2001, after a three-year process, the rule prohibits roadbuilding and most logging in the last-remaining undisturbed areas of national forests in the United States. In the greatest outreach in the history of federal rulemaking, the U.S. Forest Service held more than 600 public meetings and received a record-shattering 1.6 million public comments – more than five times as many as the next closest number of comments received in consideration of a single rule. More than 90 percent of the postcards, letters, and comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of stronger protections for the last-remaining wild lands of our national forests.
"This is the single-most commented upon policy in American history," said Jane Danowitz of the Heritage Forest Campaign. "In a clear handout to the corporations who helped President Bush get elected, his administration is simply disregarding the wishes of the American people who he has been elected to serve."
"The people of this country value these last pristine forests," said Bill Meadows of The Wilderness Society. "They recognize that these are special places where Americans enjoy their ability to hunt, fish, camp, and hike without having to contend with roads, logging, and mining projects. And they are well aware that these areas serve as habitat for endangered species and provide sources of clean drinking water for thousands of communities. The Bush Administration would do well to take note of what the American people already know and have made clear they want: full protection of our last-remaining wild forests."
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was one of the policies caught in the now-infamous "Card memo" that was issued Inauguration Day. Bush Administration Chief of Staff Andrew Card illegally ordered that all published final rules that had not yet been implemented be suspended for an additional 60 days, pending further review. Several lawsuits have been subsequently filed in opposition to the roadless rule, the two most notable of which emanated from the state of Idaho and Boise Cascade Company. Filed in Boise, Idaho, these suits sought an immediate injunction barring implementation of the rule. The judge hearing the case delayed that request pending the results of the Bush Administration's review of the roadless rule, which the government committed to provide the court by May 4. Thus far, the government has failed to provide any defense of the roadless rule, and it appears it has no intention of doing so this week when it provides the Boise court with the result of its review.
"The Attorney General swore under oath during his confirmation hearing that he would defend the roadless rule to the best of his ability, no matter how he felt about it personally," said Marty Hayden of Earthjustice. "Now we can see that he and his justice department have little-to-no intention of doing anything except the exact opposite. They're going to kill this rule, and with it the best chance we have to preserve the last wild areas of our national forests."
"We are concerned that the President is poised to listen to the timber and oil and gas industries rather than the overwhelming public mandate to protect our last wild places," said Gene Karpinski of U.S. Public Research Interest Group. "We urge the President to reverse his present course and implement the rule immediately. The American public will remember his decision for generations to come."
Despite attempts by the Bush Administration to portray the President as pro-environment, conservationists charge that this is another step in a series designed to diminish environmental protections. "President Bush should listen to Americans who want wild forests protected for hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing – not to campaign contributors from timber and mining industries intent on destroying public forests for private profit," said Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.
"Undoing the roadless rule in a single stroke puts under the threat of a chain saw more land than the state of Montana," said Dan Beard of National Audubon Society. "Stripping the roadless protection might play well in corporate board rooms but it is a terrible legacy for birds, wildlife, and our children."
The Tongass National Forest in Alaska has been of particular controversy. Considered to be the crown jewel of the national forest system, the Tongass was originally exempt from immediate protection during the draft phases of the plan, but was eventually included in the final rule. "If the roadless rule is repealed, it will be back to business as usual in Alaska's Tongass, our nation's largest and most vulnerable temperate rainforest," said Brian McNitt of Alaska Rainforest Campaign. "It'll be back to devastating and disrupting watersheds; back to destroying habitat for world-class populations of grizzlies, black bears, and other wildlife; and back to wasting millions of tax dollars building unnecessary roads. Let's move forward with the roadless rule."
"Ominous warnings are swirling that President Bush has plans to undermine the historic forest protection measure finalized in January 2001," said Robert Dewey of Defenders of Wildlife. "Citizens across the nation are anxiously waiting to learn whether the President will heed their will and protect some of the nation's last wild and pristine areas, including the Tongass. Defenders of Wildlife urges the President to immediately implement the rule and safeguard roadless areas, which are so important to protecting endangered species and to preserving our nation's wildlife heritage. From bald eagles to songbirds to gray wolves and Chinook salmon, roadless areas provide habitat for more than 220 threatened, endangered, and to-be listed species, and 1,930 sensitive species."
"Americans won't be fooled when the White House says it's going to reopen the process, further delay or just balance the wild forests rule," said Frances Beinecke of Natural Resources Defense Council. "Those are code words for gutting it, and everyone knows it."
"President Bush needs to open his eyes and see the forest for the trees by responding to the enormous outcry from Americans who want to protect our nation's last remaining wild forests," said Mark Van Putten of National Wildlife Federation.