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Bush Proposes Suspending Forest Ban
Published on Saturday, March 17, 2001 by the Associated Press
Bush Proposes Suspending Forest Ban
by Joseph Heilprin
WASHINGTON - Environmentalists are accusing the Bush administration of using the federal courts to undermine former President Clinton's forest protection plan.

The government on Friday sought to accommodate a legal challenge to the forest plan by offering to suspend the new rules, pending a hearing in the case being brought in federal court by timber interests and the state of Idaho.

The Bush administration is giving us every reason to believe they're planning to bring bulldozers back into our national forests

Tim Preso, attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
The plan, unveiled in the final days of Clinton's presidency, would ban road-building and logging in a third of the nation's federal forestland. Friday's action added to concerns among environmentalists that President Bush was signaling his intention to reverse the regulations.

``This appears to be a calculated first step by the administration to avoid offering any defense of the roadless policy,'' said Tim Preso, a staff attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

``By asking for another delay rather than vigorously defending the rule, the Bush administration is giving us every reason to believe they're planning to bring bulldozers back into our national forests,'' he said.

Two lawsuits have been filed, challenging the controversial timber restrictions.

In a filing with a federal court, government lawyers made a proposal seeking to postpone a scheduled March 30 hearing on Idaho's request for a preliminary injunction to keep the ban from going into effect. And they said if the request is granted they would not implement the rule in advance.

In addition to Idaho's lawsuit, a second suit against the ban has been filed by Boise Cascade Corp., Boise and Valley counties, Emmett, Idaho, rancher Brad Little, off-road vehicle groups and the Kootenai Tribe.

The ban ``only increases the odds commercial sales will continue to decline'' said the Boise Cascade, which announced closures of plywood and lumber operations in two communities last month due to declining federal timber sales.

But a coalition of environmental groups also has filed to intervene on behalf of the Forest Service, arguing that the roadless areas protect critical habitat for animals and fish in the state and must be preserved.

The administration's move on the forest issue is the latest in a series of actions that have riled environmentalists.

Bush this week abandoned his campaign pledge to curtail power plants' carbon dioxide emissions and suggested exploring public lands and national monuments for energy resources. He also has made drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge a centerpiece of his upcoming national energy plan.

The Clinton ban would affect 58 million forest acres where no roads currently exist.

Published on Jan. 12, eight days before Clinton left office, it was two years in the making, after the government solicited 1.6 million public comments and held 600 public hearings.

The ban originally was scheduled to go into effect on March 13, but last month Bush postponed it until May 12 so that he could review it.

Shortly after Clinton announced the ban, the state of Idaho sought a preliminary injunction, saying the government had not conducted adequate research nor allowed for sufficient comment in deciding the forestlands should be protected.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Boise, Idaho, set a hearing for March 30.

On Friday, lawyers for the Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, asked the court to delay the hearing until early May.

They also proposed invoking a little-used administrative rule to suspend the ban, saying the department ``has committed to postponing the effective date of the rule until this court has decided the motion for a preliminary injunction.''

Bush cannot block or alter the forest restrictions without going through a new rule-making process since they were published before he took office.

``Until the administration is finished with its review of the roadless policy, it will not comment on the merits,'' Justice Department spokeswoman Christine Romano said.

Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press


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