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7/12/2004

Roads in National Forests

From the NYT:

WASHINGTON, July 12 — The Forest Service today proposed scuttling a Clinton-era rule, which put 58.5 million acres of national forest largely off-limits to logging, mining or other development, in favor of a new system that leaves it to state governors to seek greater or fewer strictures on the construction of logging, mining, recreational or other roads on federal forest land.

The announcement, made by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in Boise, Idaho, a state where ideological opposition to the Clinton rule was most pronounced, was a signature moment for the Bush Administration's environmental policy.

After three years of gradually retreating from the sweeping preservationist rule, which covered about 30 percent of the 191 million acres of national forests and was embraced by environmentalists, the administration decisively rejected it and substituted a patchwork process that makes state officials the moving force in decisions of whether to log or to conserve forest lands.
From the LA Times/AP, the National Environmental Trust criticized the "states' rights" rationale for the policy change:"
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, called the administration proposal the biggest giveaway to the timber industry in history, arguing that many western states would likely press for development to help struggling rural economies.

"The idea that many governors would want to jump head first into the political snake pit of managing the national forests in their states is laughable," he said. "Besides, the timber industry has invested heavily for years in the campaigns of governors with the largest national and state forests, giving almost equally to Republicans and Democrats."
Press releases: National Environmental Trust, Earth Justice ("Expecting the Bush administration to protect pristine forest areas is like asking a shark to be a lifeguard at the local swimming pool..."), Heritage Forests Campaign ("They promised to defend the rule in the courts, but that promise was quickly abandoned to serve timber interests...").

George Bush has staked his claim in the ongoing battle, within the NRA, over conservation issues. He risks splintering the NRA:
Also fueling the anger in Spokane -- and injecting presidential politics into the argument -- was Robinson's assertion that hunters are being denied access to 26 million acres because of a Clinton-era policy that limits road construction on federal land.

The Bush administration, which has the backing of the NRA in the Nov. 2 election, has moved to limit the roadless rule in national forests. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), President Bush's Democratic challenger, has said he would reinstate all roadless areas.

The Bush and Kerry campaigns are courting hunters and anglers, whose numbers are large in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and who tend to turn out to vote. In the 2000 election, the "hook and bullet" vote went mostly to George W. Bush and gun rights were a decisive factor, according to several major hunting and conservation groups. But according to these same organizations, resource extraction efforts by the Bush administration on prime hunting and fishing habitat have upset many outdoorsmen.

In Spokane, many of the outdoor writers said they disputed Robinson's statement that roadless areas are closed to hunters. In fact, roadless areas are open to hunting and fishing, if sportsmen are willing to get out of their cars and ply these areas on foot or horseback.

The best hunting and fishing in Idaho and Oregon -- as measured by the size and number of big game taken and fish caught -- occur in roadless areas, according to two new studies by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group. The studies were presented at the convention.

"I was embarrassed and appalled by what Robinson had to say," said Pat Wray, a member of the Outdoor Writers board of directors. Wray is author of "The Chukar Hunter's Companion" and is a 20-year member of the NRA.

Wray, who drafted the letter of complaint to Robinson, said the NRA struggles with a "basic conundrum" that limits its willingness to protect wildlife habitat.

"Its primary purpose in life is protecting Americans' right to keep and bear arms, but they are trying to play that game in a hunter's realm," Wray said. "The NRA will make a push on behalf of politicians who are strong supporters of gun rights, but very often these are the same people who are the least supportive of efforts to protect hunting habitat from roads, logging and mining."

Wray said there are "a great many hunters out there like me. I am a registered Republican. I am a longtime member of the NRA. But George Bush's administration scares me to death, when it comes to the environment."
See also the SF Chronicle, the Oregonian, the Salt lake Tribune.

This is the type of decision a lame duck President might make - it will energize his opponent's base while risking his own.

 

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