Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Lockyer Joins Other Western Officials In Suit Against Bush Administration’s Repeal of ‘Roadless Rule’
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Attorney General Bill Lockyer yesterday joined New Mexico and Oregon officials in suing the Bush administration over the government’s decision to allow road building, logging and other commercial ventures on more than 90,000 square miles of the nation’s remaining pristine forests.
“Road-building simply paves the way for logging, mining and other kinds of resource extraction,” Lockyer explained in a statement. “Far too much of our national forests have been trammeled and overlogged because of the maze of logging roads that have been bulldozed over the years by timber companies. I am filing this lawsuit because the Bush Administration is putting at risk some of the last, most pristine portions of America’s national forests.”
Lockyer was joined in the lawsuit by Patricia Madrid, attorney general of New Mexico and Ted Kulongsoki, governor of Oregon. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The suit claims the U.S. Forest Service acted illegally in repealing the Clinton administration’s “roadless rule” that banned development on 58.5 million acres of national forest land, mostly in western states.
In January 2001, just eight days before he left office, President Clinton put almost one-third of the nation’s 192 million acres of national forest land off-limits to road construction, winning praise from conservation groups and criticism from the timber industry.
Those roadless areas included more than 6,800 square miles in California, about 2,500 square miles in New Mexico and nearly 3,000 square miles in Oregon.
But in May, the Bush administration replaced the regulation with a new policy requiring states to work with the Forest Service to decide how to manage individual forests. Governors were given 18 months either to petition the agency to keep their states’ forests protected or to open the undeveloped areas to roads and development.
Mark Rey, the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, called Tuesday’s lawsuit “unfortunate and unnecessary.”
“The quickest way to provide permanent protection is through the development of state-specific rules, not by resuscitating the 2001 rule,” Rey said.
He pointed out that the Clinton-era rule has been struck down in federal court. In 2003, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled that the executive branch had overstepped its authority by effectively creating wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service land. In July, the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed environmentalists’ appeal of that ruling, saying the new Bush rule made the issue moot.
In the suit filed yesterday, the states allege that the Bush administration’s repeal of the roadless rule violated federal law because the government didn’t conduct a complete analysis of the new regulation’s environmental impact.
“The federal government acknowledges that road-building and timber harvest will result in decreased water quality, increased sediment and pollutants, yet they refuse to protect our state’s few remaining pristine areas,” Madrid said.
Environmentalists praised yesterday’s challenge to the Bush administration. They said remote roadless forests contain some of the country’s best drinking water, wildlife habitat and recreational areas.
“Whether it’s the Sierra in California or the Cascades in Oregon, I think we owe it to our children and grandchildren to keep chain saws and bulldozers out of these places,” said Steven Pedery, wildlands advocate for the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
But Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, said the lawsuit was politically motivated, pointing out that the three attorneys general were Democrats.
“It’s just ironic that the states are given all the opportunity in the new rule to determine what’s in the interest of the lands within their states and they don’t want to take that on,” West said. “This is all about politics and not about protecting wildlife, watersheds and forests.
Elliot Marks, a natural resources policy adviser to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, said Washington did not the join the suit because officials learned of it too late to review it. But he said Gregoire supports restoration of the 2001 Clinton rule.
Gregoire said last month she would work to protect most, if not all, of roadless areas protected by the Clinton rule.
Lockyer said California, Oregon, and New Mexico joined forces to challenge the repeal because the states have a common interest in protecting pristine national forest lands, declining fish runs dependent on unaltered streams, and the quality and quantity of drinking water. Water flowing from national forest lands provides one-third of the West’s fresh water.
The attorney general noted that during a public comment period, the roadless rule generated the largest public response in U.S. Forest Service history, with over 90 percent of comments supportive of the road-building ban. “The Bush proposed ‘Roadless Repeal’ generated an even greater volume of comment, most of it critical,” Lockyer said.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company