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Heritage Forests Campaign News Release

For Immediate Release
May 5, 2005

Tony Iallonardo, NET, 202-887-8855 (ph)

Bush Administration Ends Safeguards for Pristine National Forests

Aim is Logging, Mining, Drilling, Conservationists Charge

WASHINGTON, DC Today the Bush Administration announced that it was ending protections for roadless portions of National Forests. The plan drew blunt criticism from environmentalists, members of Congress and Governor Bill Richardson (NM), all of whom say it will lead to logging, mining and oil drilling in an ever-shrinking portion of National Forests that remain wild and pristine. The Bush plan strikes down the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which restricted roadbuilding and resource extraction on 58.5 million acres of Federal forestland in 38 states known as roadless areas.

"This takes us straight back to the early 1990's, when the National Forests were managed as nothing more than tree lots for the timber industry," said Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust.

Rather than providing roadless protections, the Bush policy gives ultimate decision-making power to political appointees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), after allowing governors an opportunity to petition the U.S. Forest Service with their recommendations. The petitions are not binding, and the bureaucracy is free to accept, reject or modify them. During a public comment period held last year on the proposed plan, 1.7 million Americans asked the Forest Service to abandon this new plan.

"The Administration likes to play shell games with governors," said Gov. Richardson.

"The American people want what's left of our pristine National Forests to stay that way. Never before in the history of this country have so many people written in opposition to a Federal rule," said Robert Vandermark, Director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "National Forests deserve national protection and should not be subjected to the political whims of governors and Federal bureaucrats."

Environmentalists charge that today's action completes the Administration's abandonment of a promise it made to uphold the Roadless Rule.

  • On May 4, 2001, the Bush Administration held a press conference announcing its commitment to upholding the rule.
  • Months later, a former timber industry lobbyist, Mark Rey, was appointed as Undersecretary of Natural Resources at USDA to oversee the Forest Service.
  • In the years since the Administration made its promise to uphold the Roadless Rule, extractive industries donated heavily to the Bush presidential campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, President Bush received more than $9.5 million in campaign contributions from energy and agribusiness interests in the 2004 election cycle.
  • Last July, the Administration announced its intention to repeal to rule.
  • As of today, the safeguards for roadless areas are no longer in effect.

"The Administration's plan will trigger an avalanche of litigation as the public fight to protect its cherished remaining wildlands," said Jim Angell, an attorney with EarthJustice.

"The Department of Agriculture stated two goals when they initiated this process: to protect roadless areas, and to end the controversy surrounding their future. The only thing that is certain about the Kafkaesque policy announced today is that neither of those was accomplished," said Chris Wood, Vice President of Conservation with Trout Unlimited.

The Roadless Rule was finalized in January 2001 after years of scientific study, 600 local public hearings and meetings and a record number of public comments. The Forest Service received over 2.5 million comments in favor of the rule. The rule protected 58.5 million acres nationwide while allowing temporary road construction in order to fight wildfires, protect public safety, and promote forest health. Conservationists say the rule ensured that National Forests would provide habitat for fish and wildlife, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and endless opportunities for recreation.


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