Leading environmentalists said yesterday that the Bush administration's
agreement to keep 58.5 million acres of national forest off-limits to logging,
road building and mining appears deceptive and may undo three decades of
In a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho, and at a press
conference by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, the administration
insisted that it will leave the Roadless Area Conservation Rule -- former
President Bill Clinton's chief environmental legacy -- in place.
But while affirming a "commitment to the important challenge of protecting
roadless values," Veneman added that the administration will take a
"commonsense approach to roadless protection."
The Bush administration isn't talking about local control. It's
talking about control by the timber industry.
Sierra Club Executive Director
Resources-industry representatives who had fought imposition of the Clinton
administration rule said they were relieved to learn that Bush will consider
amendments to the rule and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
"We can only assume that taking another look at (the roadless rule) will
lead to a better long-term decision," said Denise Jones, executive director of
the California Mining Association. "As adopted by the Clinton administration,
it was extremely restrictive and would've limited mineral development on
Critics of the Clinton rule -- including boards of supervisors from several
of California's rural counties -- contend that it will damage local economies
and increase the risk of wildfires.
Neil Lawrence, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said
it appears that the administration is contemplating "a sneak attack . . . that
would aim a dagger at the heart of the roadless rule."
Lawrence, along with other environmental leaders, says the administration
seems bent on dealing with roadless issues on a piecemeal approach. Such an
approach already "has eaten away at our last best places," he said.
But Chris Nance, a spokesman for the California Forestry Association, said
that "we're pleased to see that the administration recognized the value of
national forest planning."
As the rule now stands, "it's analogous to a scenario whereby the feds
mandate the purchase of snowplows for use in San Francisco without taking
input from anybody in San Francisco," he said.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope discounted the notion that the new
policy favors local control over central bureaucracy.
The Bush administration "isn't talking about local control," he said. "It's
talking about control by the timber industry. It's the old system, and we're
not going to get different results by going back to the old planning process."
"It's asking a lot for a forest ranger to stand up to Boise Cascade and say
no," said Doug Honnold, an attorney for Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund in
Brian Vincent of Nevada City, a spokesman for the American Lands Alliance,
was even more vehement.
"The president has essentially gutted the roadless plan by giving more
clout to those most hostile to forest protection," he said.
James Lyons, undersecretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration
and now a professor at Yale University, said his "greatest fear is that this
will simply revert to a process that leads us to more conflict, more
confrontation and a return to war in the woods."
Michael Anderson, senior resource analyst for the Wilderness Society, said,
"It's inconceivable that a process that resulted in 1.6 million comments, the
most ever recorded on a federal rule-making, could be thrown out as not having
adequate public participation."
The dispute over how much development, logging and harvesting should occur
in the national forests goes back to 1972, with the initiation of the Roadless
Area Review and Evaluation plans, known as RARE I and RARE II.
The roadless areas covered by the Clinton administration rule are not
wilderness, although wilderness status is still being sought for some.
California has 4,416,000 acres of roadless area spread among its 20.6
million acres of national forest, which include 4.1 million acres of
As a practical matter, yesterday's developments figure to have little short-
term effect on U.S. Forest Service operations in California. Just 9.75 miles
of logging roads and 50 miles of roads for other purposes were on the planning
board, said Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes.
Among the potential friction points if the Clinton administration rule is
put up for re-examination and amendment are the San Joaquin roadless area in
Inyo National Forest, contiguous to the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area; the north
fork of the American River; the north and middle forks of the Stanislaus River; and the Chinquapin roadless area in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Chronicle staff writer Zachary Coile contributed to this report.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle