Washington, D.C. – According to new research released today by the Heritage Forests Campaign, the U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead with new activities in over twenty inventoried roadless areas, despite agency assurances that these areas will be protected while their fate is in dispute.
In a September 2005 New York Times letter-to-the-editor, Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Agriculture, wrote, “We are providing interim protection to roadless areas, pending the development of state-specific rules provided for in our 2005 rulemaking.” The HFC report, “Broken Ground,” analyzes the Federal Register, news articles and the Forest Service’s own website, however, to reveal projects in the pipeline, including:
· - Logging and road construction in Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming;
·- Oil and gas drilling in Colorado, Nevada and Utah; and
·- Roads, phosphate exploration, and mining in Idaho's Sage Creek Roadless Area.
“It is disingenuous for the Forest Service to move forward with destructive projects while assuring the public that it is protecting these areas,” said Robert Vandermark, Director of the Heritage Forest Campaign. “The administration should honor its commitment and stop these activities immediately.”
Since taking office, the Bush administration has steadily undermined the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a USDA Forest Service policy to protect the last unprotected, unroaded 58.5 million acres of national forests from most logging, road-building and other development. A substitute policy was put in place last year, which created a process requiring governors to petition the Forest Service if they wished for roadless protection in their states.
Opposition to the substitute policy is taking many forms. Twenty conservation organizations have challenged the legality of the repeal itself and, in late February 2006, more than a quarter of a million citizens used the Administrative Procedures Act to petition the Department of Agriculture to reinstate the original rule.
Furthermore, numerous states are taking action to assure these areas will be protected. Attorneys general of six states have joined in a lawsuit against Bush’s rollback, and several governors have filed, or have announced their intentions to file, petitions for the complete protection of roadless areas in their states, even as they voice their opposition to the administration’s uncertain process.
Earlier this month, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley’s filing stressed leaving his state’s forests alone in the interim and in the future. “Given North Carolina’s petition for full protection of our roadless areas, I further request that no projects involving road construction, logging or other development be proposed in any of these areas during the time when this petition is being considered and until a protective state-specific rule is in place,” he said.
“No one knows how the multiple lawsuits, gubernatorial petitions, private citizen petitions and industry pressure will end,” said Vandermark. “Conservationists are asking that all incursions in roadless areas be halted until these matters are resolved.”