The Bush administration announced major efforts to weaken the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, considered by many to be the greatest forest conservation legacy of our times. The Roadless Rule protects 58.5 million acres of wild forests in America's national forests and grasslands. Most of the lands protected by the rule are in the western states and Alaska. The new administration initiatives will drop the nation's two largest national forests, Alaska's Tongass and Chugach, from the roadless rule and open these protected areas to industrial development. Alaska's Tongass rainforest is particularly vulnerable to massive industrial scale clearcutting as the Forest Service is planning 49 old growth logging projects in areas that were to be protected by the rule.
The administration also announced it will establish a loophole to allow governors to opt out of the rule for national forests in their states. This will allow logging, roadbuilding and other forms of development in states where political or financial pressures to develop these pristine forest lands become too great for governors to withstand. It will also allow governors to make political decisions over resources belonging to all Americans.
"Allowing governors in states like Utah and Wyoming to opt out of protecting the national forests in their states is like letting Alabama and Mississippi opt out of civil rights laws," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold. Honnold successfully defended the roadless rule before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In spite of the rule's validity being upheld at the appeals court, the Bush administration used a lawsuit filed by the state of Alaska challenging the rule as a vehicle to strip protections from the Alaska forests under the guise of settling the lawsuit before the court even considered the merits of the underlying legal claims.
Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen noted, " In another sweetheart deal for the timber industry, the Bush administration took a winning legal hand and figured a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by selling out roadless protections in Alaska."
Roadless lands in America's national forests are needed to provide clean drinking water for millions of Americans as well as islands of refuge for America's fish and wildlife. They also are prime areas where millions of Americans hunt, fish and camp every year.
"Rather than provide for the many, this administration has moved to provide for the few: its wealthy corporate friends who want to plunder the riches of wild lands belonging to all Americans," said Marty Hayden of Earthjustice.
The administration announced it would undertake several new executive rulemaking procedures over the remainder of 2003 to achieve the weakening of the rule. They announced that they would publish a proposed rule to drop Alaska's Tongass rainforest before the end of the month and the other proposals would be published in the Federal Register in September. In the meantime bills are making their way through both the House and Senate in an effort to protect the 58.5 million acres of wild forests from the back-room deals being struck by the timber industry and the Bush administration.