In 2001, President Bill Clinton finalized the so-called Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a landmark conservation initiative that protects 58.5 million acres of wild national forest land from most commercial logging and road-building. Currently more than half of our nation's national forests are open to mining, drilling and logging. The rule was enacted with widespread public support, generating 1.5 million comments from citizens who praised the effort to protect the last remaining wild forest lands.
On July 12, the Bush administration reversed its pledge not to dismantle these crucial protections, announcing a wholesale weakening of the rule that puts the fate of our national forests in the hands of state governments. The following samples of editorial opinion across the country show widespread public opposition to this latest assault on the environment:
Kansas City, Mo. – Kansas City Star
July 15, 2004
"In another payoff to campaign contributors, the Bush administration has swept aside federal protections for the nation's forests. The result will be chopped-up forests in many parts of the country, particularly in the West where most untouched forests remain.
"President Bush's elimination of the Clinton-era 'roadless rule' puts the president at odds with overwhelming public support for preserving the best in national lands and forests.
"The roadless rule protected 60 million acres of older-growth forests from the road-building that enables loggers to get to isolated areas, cut down the trees and haul the wood out.
"…The Clinton roadless rule enjoyed strong public support. But in this presidential election year, there are campaign supporters to be kept happy. The nation's last great forests are being served up at the political fund-raisers."
Lexington, Ky. – Lexington Herald-Leader
July 15, 2004
"There's a difference between modifying an environmental protection and ripping its insides out, but the Bush administration hasn't picked up on the distinction.
"For years, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has talked about tweaking a Clinton-era mandate that banned road-building in nearly 60 million of the most untouched acres of national forest. She wanted just enough flexibility to protect public safety and wildlife habitats, she said.
"With the roadless rule placed in the hands of Undersecretary Mark E. Rey, a former timber lobbyist, no one expected a forest-friendly proposal to emerge. A year ago, Rey talked about letting governors appeal to open certain forest areas to roads.
"'We are trying to make available relief in limited circumstances,' Rey said at the time.
"By the time Veneman formally proposed the rule Monday, it became clear that 'limited circumstances' had been defined as 'everywhere' — unless individual governors petition to protect swaths of forest.
"This boils down to the federal government dumping its responsibility to manage federal lands and handing it to states instead. Department of Agriculture officials sing the praises of "locally supported" forest plans, but that just means the support of local logging and mining companies, because conservationists and recreational users oppose the road-building.
"…As a final insult, the public gets to pick up the tab for damaging its own forests, since the roads are federally funded. Never mind that the forests have been too poorly funded to keep up visitor services, police off-road vehicles or maintain the existing, decaying roads.
"The money issue, though, gives Congress a weapon for defanging the new proposal, much as it did last month when the Bush administration opened 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to bulldozers. Congress simply refused to allow any money to be spent for the roads. That's one budget cut we can all like."
Louisville, Ky. – Louisville Courier-Journal
July 15, 2004
"From the people who produced Iraq World — a $100 billion mess that has claimed thousands of lives in a war based on false premises and shoddy planning — now comes Timber World.
"The Bush administration announced this week that it will propose scrapping President Bill Clinton's rule that blocked road building — and therefore most logging, mining and other development — in almost 60 million acres of national forest.
"The undoing of Mr. Clinton's roadless rule is marked by the deception and doublespeak that is characteristic of so much of this President's agenda.
"It began disingenuously, with Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman talking early in the administration about seeking just a bit more flexibility. But the assignment for formulating a new proposal was given ominously to the Agriculture undersecretary, Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry. Still, he talked reassuringly about limited relief and allowing governors to petition to open certain forest areas to road building.
"Then came Monday's climax, and there was Ms. Veneman in Boise, Idaho, at the geographic and political center of the fiercest opposition to the Clinton rule, announcing that the Bush administration plans to abandon this valuable protection of old-growth forests.
"…Ms. Veneman's decision was couched in the language of states rights. This administration favors states rights — except in the cases of corporate liability, utility regulation, marriage, medicinal marijuana, physician-assisted suicide and anything else it thinks states might get wrong.
"…Meanwhile, it's clear why we hear so many fewer complaints these days from the famously anti-government timber and mining industries. They like government — now that they're running it."
Newark, N.J. – Newark Star-Ledger
July 15, 2004
"Under the Bush plan, states could petition for whatever level of road building they wanted, from none to 'let a thousand bulldozers roll.' Washington would still make the final decision, but there isn't much doubt it would favor building as many roads as possible. So will many of the Western states that are home to the largest portion of the roadless forests. And where there are roads, there are timber crews.
"The administration insists decisions on how to use the national forests are better made by those who live near them. But these forests belong to every American, not just those who happen to be close by.
"…If the Clinton rule was overbroad, the solution is to tweak it, not throw it out. The national forests were created to provide wood for the nation and enjoyment for the public, a balance that has become more difficult as the nation and its environmental awareness have grown and the supply of virgin land has declined.
"Certainly, states and local citizens deserve a fair say in determining how to manage the forests. But they should not have the overwhelming say. They are called national forests for a reason."
Pittsburgh, Pa. – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 13, 2004
"Significantly, the change in policy was announced in Idaho, one of the first states to take the roadless rule to federal court, a battle that goes on to this day. The new rule is touted as a commonsensical approach that seeks to work cooperatively with states. Indeed, its backers say, no new roads are likely to be approved imminently; this new approach resurrects an interim rule that had lapsed.
"But it is hard to put a happy face on this development, which promises long-term harm. It is yet another example of the administration putting short-term business interests over the long-term good of the country. Once roads are built, no wilderness is safe.
"It would be wrong to think that this is all about the West and won't impact this corner of the country. Not far to the northeast of Pittsburgh lies the magnificent Allegheny National Forest. As the Philadelphia-headquartered Clean Air Council has warned, 25,000 acres of forest are endangered in Pennsylvania by the new policy, with possible baleful effects on wildlife habitat and the source of clean drinking water.
"…Yesterday may go down as a grim day for the cause of conservation, a day that America the Beautiful became less so."
Sacramento, Calif. – Sacramento Bee
July 14, 2004
"…The new policy will effectively convert the national forest system into a collection of state forests. Each state will soon be driving the political decision-making process to open up roadless areas for mining and timber harvesting.
"National forests, by their very name, demand a management ethic that reflects national priorities and values, and this new plan leaves national treasures at risk.
"…In a state such as California, this new policy may not change the landscape very much. But in a state such as Alaska or Idaho, where a national forest ethic has tempered local enthusiasm to cut roads ever deeper into untouched areas, this policy of putting the state in the driver's seat could turn a road ban into an endless green light for road construction.
"Local opinions are important in any of these discussions because for these local communities, the forests are their back yards. But national forest policy must continue to balance these views with broader public values. When management strategies cease to seek this balance, the lands essentially are no longer national forests."
San Jose, Calif. – San Jose Mercury News
July 14, 2004
"Making inroads into environmental protections has been a hallmark of George Bush's presidency, so it's no surprise that his administration wants to cut more roads in national forests.
"…Roads are not good for national forests. Roads usually are built to provide access for loggers, drillers or miners. Even if they're built just to make it easier for campers to get farther away from civilization, they split up wildlife habitat, foster erosion, and facilitate the introduction of alien species of plants and animals.
"The Bush administration is selling this as local control, with the rationale that when it comes to forest management, locals know best.
"…But roads are not principally a management issue; they're a philosophical one. Are the forests going to be further developed or not? On this question, locals deserve a voice. But these are national forests, not a series of state preserves.
"…The trouble is, you can't trust an administration this reckless on the roads."
St. Paul, Minn. – St. Paul Pioneer Press
July 16, 2004
"There's so much wrong with the Bush administration proposal to end 'roadless rule' protections for national forests that it's hard to know where to begin. As we've said before, national forests are exactly that: national. Their benefit is to the entire country, not to states with their patchwork quilts of environmental regulations and continual pressures from private commercial interests.
"The bottom line is this: No governor should determine the fate of a national forest within a state's borders — that's the purview of a responsible federal government that guards public assets."