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Heritage Forests Campaign News Release

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Tony Iallonardo
Phone: 202.887.8855

Over 250,000 Petition Forest Service to Reinstate Forest Protections

Olympians Join Effort to End Bush Administration's Logging and Drilling Efforts

WASHINGTON, DC More than 250,000 Americans today formally petitioned the Bush administration to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, and reverse one of the administration's most controversial environmental decisions.

In an unprecedented move, conservationists, concerned Americans and more than 100 current and former Olympians employed the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) to petition for a policy reversal (for details on the Olympians and local information, visit ourforests.org). The APA grants citizens the right to request the government issue, amend or revoke federal rules. Backers say the unusual step was necessary after the Bush administration failed to honor the overwhelming public support for retaining the 2001 rule evidenced during a public comment period drive. Traditionally, citizen participation is limited to comments during rulemakings, but according to conservationists, the comments of 1.7 million Americans were disregarded by the Bush administration in their repeal of the rule.

In a letter to the Forest Service, over 100 local and national conservation groups who organized the drive demanded a response to the petition as required by law. The groups said the government not only ignored strong public support for the rule, but they have skirted federal environmental law. These legal violations are the subject of two lawsuits in federal court

"The public deserves a medal for stepping up time and again to defend our roadless national forests," said Robert Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "While the administration has shut out millions of Americans who previously expressed support for protecting roadless areas, federal law requires it pay attention now."

Critics say the administration's substitute policy, which allows governors to submit plans for roadless areas in their states is unwieldy, causes uncertainty and is expensive. They also contend the process shuts out the views of Americans who do not live in states with roadless areas but support their conservation. The White House has also been criticized for proposing land sales and logging projects in roadless areas while claiming they are currently protecting roadless areas.

Today's announcement comes as pressure mounts in Congress, the courts and the general public to reinstate the protections that limited logging, drilling, and other destructive activities on nearly 60 million acres of wild national forests.

A Senate bill will be introduced shortly by Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Jeff Bingaman (NM) to codify the 2001 roadless rule into federal law. Last July, 145 members of Congress introduced a similar bill in the House. In addition, a federal suit has been filed on behalf of three state attorneys general and two governors from four western states -- California, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon challenging the legality of the Bush policy. Montana and Maine joined last week filing a brief in support of the suit. A second legal challenge was also filed on behalf of 20 conservation groups.

One hundred thirty world-class athletes including over 100 current and former Olympians who hold 50 Olympic medals as a whole petitioned the administration. Among them was Chris Klug, an Aspen snowboarder and bronze medal winner from the 2002 games.

"I've spent countless hours carving lines down slopes and getting to know some of the most pristine forests our great country has to offer," said Klug. "That's why I've joined my fellow athletes and Americans in asking the government to not be shortsighted, and reinstate the Roadless Rule to protect our pristine forests for future generations."

"I'm proud that these U.S. Olympic athletes aren't just champions of sports, they're also champions of our nation's pristine forests," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), member of the House Resources Committee and sponsor of legislation to restore protections for roadless areas in national forests.

A copy of the letter submitted by the groups supporting the petition drive, and more information on the roadless rule and roadless areas can be found at the Heritage Forests Campaign web site.

Contacts: Tony Iallonardo, National Environmental Trust, 202-887-8855; Clare Gannon, The Wilderness Society, 202-429-7435; or Cat Lazaroff, EarthJustice, 202-667-4500 x213.

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