WASHINGTON - July 12 - Statement of William H. Meadows, President, The Wilderness Society
Today, the Bush Administration announced a plan that would overturn the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the landmark conservation initiative enacted in 2001 to protect 58.5 million acres of National Forest roadless areas from additional road-building and logging.
Unfortunately, todays announcement will all but eliminate protections for Americas last remaining unspoiled National Forests. And worse yet, this decision completely ignores the wishes of the 2.5 million Americans who have repeatedly supported these protections.
In the new scheme, governors will be forced to petition the federal government to protect the last remaining pristine forests in their states. This approach is in truth an outright repeal of the rule, replacing what Americans have supported for years with a meaningless and confusing petition process that tries to hide the fact that the Bush Administration is getting rid of the rule. Not only would this unwise proposal upend our long tradition of consistently applying the same laws and standards across the country, it could result in different rules for managing National Forests in every single state. Our National Forests belong to all Americans and their management should not be placed in the hands of state officials.
Moreover, we will all foot the bill for this new proposal. Our national forests are already covered with 386,000 miles of roads -- enough to circle the earth 15 times -- and theres a $10 billion backlog on their maintenance. Yet the Bush Administration is asking taxpayers to dig deeper into their wallets to build even more roads.
The communities whose economies depend on wisely managed National Forests will feel the pain. There is overwhelming evidence that the Roadless Rule makes the most sense for local economies across the country: According to the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the extractive industries are a small portion of the total jobs in the Rocky Mountain Region, while recreation related employment is about 6 times as large for the region as a whole. And the USDA Forest Service estimated that in 1999, our National Forests provided four recreation- and conservation-based jobs for every job related to extraction.
In December 2003, one hundred economists sent the Bush Administration and 11 western governors a letter telling them that protecting and enhancing the quality of the regions natural environment would strengthen the ability of western communities to generate more jobs and higher incomes. Clearly, dismantling the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and allowing increased logging in pristine roadless areas will have the opposite effect.
Backed by law and sound science, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule has enjoyed widespread support since its enactment in 2001. The rule garnered 10 times more public comments than any federal rule in history and has been favored by Members of Congress, major corporations, outdoor retailers, and hundreds of gun groups. They all see protecting a portion of our most unspoiled places as a commonsense way to support communities, honor the public will and create a legacy for our children; the government should too.