WASHINGTON - September 14 - Members of Congress and conservationists today announced that more than one million Americans had written the Bush Administration in the past 60 days to admonish their plan to open 58.5 million acres of pristine National Forests to logging. The groups held a convention-style event on the Ellipse in front of the White House with state 'delegates' on-hand to announce local tallies. With the Administration's comment period reaching the halfway mark today, coalition members said they expect comments against the Bush plan to continue to pour in. Similar events were also held locally in about 25 states today.
"It's abundantly clear that Americans across the country continue to overwhelmingly support protecting our last wild forests," said Gene Karpinski, executive director of U.S. PIRG (U.S. Public Interest Research Group). "The public has responded with strong opposition toward the Bush Administration's national forests giveaway, and we hope this outpouring convinces them to change direction."
"The over one million comments that are being delivered today demonstrate that the American public has not wavered one bit in their support for preserving our last remaining wild forests," said Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. "The enormous number of comments that have been received so far means that every single day since the beginning of the comment period, at least 20,000 people from across the country and from diverse constituencies, have taken the time to write in favor of protecting our last remaining roadless forests for future generations."
On July 12th, the Bush administration proposed repealing National Forests protections currently in place in the Roadless Rule. Conservationists say the Bush plan eviscerates protections for our last wild forests, and instead abdicates national forest stewardship to state and local politicians who could either petition for protection of roadless areas in their states -- or for more logging, mining and drilling.
Last week the Forest Service extended the public comment period after weeks of pressure from the public, but has not scheduled any public hearings. Comments are now being accepted until November 15th.
"The extension of the comment period is a clear indication that the roadless issue has become too big a political thorn in the Bush Administration's side," said Robert Vandermark, co-director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "The Administration knows that opening the last 30 percent of the national forests to the timber, oil and mining industries is not a popular move."
The Roadless Rule was finalized in January 2001 after years of scientific study, 600 local public hearings and meetings and a record number of public comments. Prior to the current public comment period, the Forest Service received 2.5 million comments in favor of the rule. The Rule protects 58.5 million acres nationwide while allowing temporary road construction in order to fight wildfires, ensure public safety, and protect forest health. Conservationists say the Rule ensures that national forests will continue to provide habitat for fish and wildlife, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and endless opportunities for recreation.
Karpinski, Meadows and Vandermark were joined at today's White House event by Sen. Maria Cantwell; Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jay Inlsee; Olympic kayaking silver medalist Rebecca Giddens who practices on the Kern River, which runs through the Sequoia National Forest in California; Martha Marks from Republicans for Environmental Protection; and Patricia E. Campos of the labor group UNITE & HEAR.