Mar. 7, 2006 – Efforts to control road-building in the nationâ€™s wilderness areas saw new growth last week with a petition drive and proposed legislation seeking to bar logging and road construction on public lands.
Thursday, a loose coalition of conservationist groups petitioned the administration to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation rule, enacted at the end of Bill Clintonâ€™s presidency. The administrative law tightly limited new road and logging projects on about 58.5 million acres of national forest. The Roadless rule was short lived; the Bush administration and several courts nixed it in the following months.
The groups delivered over 250,000 signatures, hoping to force the Bush administration to reinstate the rule, and demanded a response under the rarely used Administrative Procedures Act. The 1946 law allows citizens to directly request that executive agency decisions be struck down, altered or issued and requires the federal government to respond. The petition has been circulating since last spring.
According to the Forest Service, reinstating the Roadless rule would protect lands inhabited or used by over 220 species of wildlife on the Endangered Species List. The large tracts of land the rule would shelter also serve as the natural habitat for a wide range of animal and plant life that does not enjoy specific protections.
In compiling information, the Forest Service also noted that the rule could lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs in the timber industry.
Under an alternative White House plan, states would have to specifically seek protections for their national forest lands. The administration has opened several public comment periods on that proposal and in January extended the current phase for another eighteen months, according to the US Forest Service.
Environmental groups and others contend that the Bush plan paves the way to private ownership of national forest lands. Last year, Oregon, California and New Mexico sued the administration to reinstate the 2001 rule. Last week, Washington State signed on to the suit.
Also Thursday, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), introduced a new version of the 2001 rule. The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2006 would cement the Clinton administration rule as federal law.