In yet another rollback of Clinton-era environmental protection measures, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced today that the Bush administration would seek to reverse a nation-wide rule protecting roadless lands on the national forests. The “Roadless Rule” was designed to protect the pristine streams, drinking water sources, native fish and wildlife on 58.5 million acres of unroaded national forest lands. Far from a last-minute rulemaking, the roadless policy was the result of nearly 3 years of effort, over 600 public hearings and the involvement of 1.6 million Americans, who overwhelmingly supported the policy. One key feature of the Roadless Rule was to establish binding, national standards eliminating virtually all new roadbuilding and nearly all logging in these roadless lands.
“The Clinton Roadless Rule was the right approach — it put these lands beyond the reach of Boise Cascade and the other timber industry giants who want the American taxpayer to pay the bill for paving the way to environmental destruction,” said Doug Honnold, managing attorney of the Bozeman, Montana office of Earthjustice. “The Bush approach would say ‘come and get it’ to the timber companies, the oil and gas companies, and other extractive industries.”
The Roadless Rule was prompted in part by an $8.4 billion backlog in needed repairs for the existing 386,000 miles of roads on national forest lands. The cost of building roads in national forest lands is routinely subsidized by Forest Service budget allocations, resulting in road building and clear cutting that is heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer. The roadless lands are refuge for many species, like grizzly bears and wolves that have no place else to go. They are also vital sources of clean drinking water for 60 million Americans.
Today, Secretary Veneman said the Bush administration would adopt a new version of the rule that gives local Forest Service officials the power to decide whether and how to protect the lands now protected by the Roadless Rule.
“Allowing each national forest to decide for itself whether or not to protect individual roadless areas is exactly what led to 30 years of conflict, 386,000 miles of roads and an $8 billion maintenance backlog in the first place” said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice. “Why return to a proven failure?”