Plan targets roadless rules

Two million acres of roadless forest in Washington could be opened up to road building and logging under a Bush administration plan announced Monday, environmentalists said.

U.S. Forest Service officials said the Bush proposal seeks to keep new roads out of the nation’s 58.5 million acres of roadless forests, not to invite road building and logging.

“The idea is to protect the roadless areas in a way that is legally defensible,” said Dan Jiron, a national spokesman for the Forest Service. “This is not about road building and commercial logging.”

Environmentalists said the rule would strip away all the protections in a 2001 Clinton administration roadless rule that has the teeth needed to keep new roads out.

The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has 415,000 acres of roadless forest that could be affected by the proposed rule. Most of the proposed Wild Sky wilderness area in eastern Snohomish County falls within the state’s roadless area.

The Forest Service needs a new roadless policy because the Clinton rule was being challenged in five states and had been struck down by a federal court in June 2003, Jiron said.

The Clinton rule would stand in court if the Bush administration would defend it, said Tom Uniack, conservation director for the Washington Wilderness Coalition, a Seattle-based state environmental group with 10,000 members.

He said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a legal challenge in late 2002 and added that the case the Forest Service refers to is being appealed.

The Bush proposal would give state governors more say over whether new roads are carved into the nation’s most-rugged, untouched forests. Ninety-seven percent of the nation’s roadless areas are found in 12 states, including Washington.

Governors would be able to petition to have roadless areas protected from road building or to ask to allow roads to be built, Jiron said.

Environmentalists interpretation of the plan suggests that roads will be allowed unless a governor specifically asks to keep roads out. Worse, they said, if a governor does ask for land in his or her state to remain roadless, the Forest Service could simply say “no.”

“The Forest Service proposal will gut the roadless rule,” Uniack said. “(It) fails to ensure that a single acre of the 58.5 million acres of roadless forests will be protected.”

Gov. Gary Locke agreed.

“Once again, the Bush administration has abdicated its leadership on a critical environmental issue,” Locke said. “Washington’s national forests are important to our local communities. But they are owned by all Americans, and forest management should represent all these interests.”

A 60-day public comment period starts as soon as the proposal is published on the Federal Register, which should happen this week, Jiron said. Roadless protections offered by the 2001 rule will stay intact for 18 months.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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