July 14, 2004 – The Bush administration opened up almost 60 million acres of national forest to logging, mining and other development yesterday, in an unprecedented move that will likely destroy a significant portion of the nationâ€™s dwindling old-growth forests.
The announcement, made in Boise, Idaho, where logging industry lobbyists have been vocal, overturns the 2001 Clinton administration ruling that protected so-called "roadless forests," and puts decisions about national forests into the hands of the states.
"This is the biggest single giveaway to the timber industry in the history of the national forests," Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, told Australia-based newspaper The Age. "The idea that many governors would want to jump head-first into the political snakepit of managing the national forests in their states is laughable. Besides, the timber industry has invested heavily for years in the campaigns of governors with the largest national and state forests, giving almost equally to Republicans and Democrats."
Twelve western states contain 97 percent of the nationâ€™s roadless areas, including Alaska, which accounts for one-fourth. Environmental activists say the road building will cause pollution, destroy natural habitats, and mar millions of acres of pristine wilderness. The change will especially affect these statesâ€™ old-growth forests. In the US less than five percent of old growth forests remain, according to the activist environmental group Rainforest Action Network. Most of these trees are hundreds of years old.
Clintonâ€™s ban, was already under attack by states and interest groups who filed a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn it. The judicial branchâ€™s response has been mixed, with two federal district judges ruling against the Clinton-era ban and a federal appeals court upholding it, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Under the new system, the governor of each state has eighteen months to petition the federal government to seek approval either to carve roads into the forests or to retain the existing ban. The decisions will be made by Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth, who said he supported the Clinton ruling shortly after being appointed but later became the "point man" for its reversal under Bush, according to Mother Jones magazine. He is expected to approve most requests to build new roads in formerly unlogged areas.
Not surprisingly, logging and mining officials embraced the Bush administration announcement. Jim Riley of the Intermountain Forest Association, a group that represents the timber industry, told the Associated Press, "These decisions are far better made by local folks than through broad national policy."
Idaho is among the states expected to open its national forests to increased logging. The state, second only to Alaska in number of acres affected, went to court to block the Clinton-era ruling, the AP reports.
However, not all states embraced the announcement. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told ABC News that he would request that all 1.1 million acres of roadless land in his state remain protected. "They should not open these areas, period," he said.