In federal court here today, the Bush Administration failed to defend the Roadless Area Conservation Rule pertaining to national forests in the United States and delayed commenting on the process until May 4, 2001. Attorneys presented oral arguments responding to a request from timber giant Boise Cascade and the state of Idaho for a preliminary injunction to block the roadless rule. Earthjustice represents eight environmental groups intervening in the case opposing the preliminary injunction and defending the rule. Federal judge Edward Lodge will rule later on the injunction request, although he promised today that ruling would come soon.
"The Bush administration has been consistent in attacking America's hard fought gains protecting our water, our air and the wildlands Americans love," said Doug Honnold, attorney for Earthjustice who presented arguments today defending the roadless rule. "Today's action is yet another example of their extreme and dangerous agenda targeted at gutting America's environmental protections. This rule may not be popular with the extractive interests who helped get Bush into office, but it is extremely popular with the American public and it should be allowed to be implemented."
The roadless policy would preserve 58.5 million acres of national forests from roadbuilding and other industrial activities. The Bush administration delayed implementation of the rule from March 13 to May 12. Today, the government committed to completing its review of the rule, and said it would report back to the court in Boise on May 4.
"This is getting to the point of being absolutely unbelievable," said John McCarthy of Idaho Conservation League. "This is now an every-day attack on one environmental initiative after another without any regard for the work or compromise that came before this administration. Life did not start with George W. Bush taking office; there were more than 600 meetings and more than 1.6 million comments about this rule – and an overwhelming percentage of those were in favor of the rule."
Timber giant Boise Cascade and the state of Idaho asked Judge Lodge to issue a preliminary injunction that would allow bulldozers back into undisturbed areas of the national forests. Boise Cascade and Idaho claimed that logging and roadbuilding are necessary to reduce the risk of forest fires -- despite Forest Service findings that building roads into pristine areas actually increases the risk of fires.
"Instead of spending money bulldozing roads into the backcountry, they should be reducing fire risk by clearing around houses and communities," said Honnold. "Roadless areas pose the least fire danger. Nature has proven time and again it is a better regulator of forest health than man."
The roadless rule protects undisturbed areas in the national forests that are key to providing safe, clean drinking water, outdoor recreation and protection of endangered species like grizzly bears and salmon. The rule is the legacy of former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck who resigned this week. Dombeck oversaw two and a half years of planning and 600 public meetings in an effort to preserve some of the last vestiges of America's native ecosystems. The rule making process generated over a million favorable public comments. In his resignation letter submitted to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman this week, Dombeck said, "The long-term public interest in conserving these areas should prevail over short-term private interests."