|Roadless Area Conservation
Rule at Risk
The Wilderness Society 3/23/01
if allowing higher concentrations of arsenic in America's drinking
and loosening restrictions on hard-rock mining were not enough for
week, on Wednesday the Bush administration essentially abdicated its
to defend our national forests.
a stealth move that signals tacit cooperation with the timber industry,
Bush administration offered an anemic defense to industry arguments
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule - the most significant national
conservation measure of the past 100 years - should be overturned.
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Roadless Area Conservation Rule would protect 58.5 million acres of
national forest land from commercial logging, road construction and
other damaging activities. More than half of national forest land is
open to logging, mining and other extractive industries. The US Department
of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service issued the rule after a three-year
administrative process that involved more than 600 public meetings
and 1.6 million public comments.
immediately following the inauguration, the Bush administration ordered
that all recent Clinton administration rules and policies be suspended
and subjected to review. Accordingly, in early February the administration
announced that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, scheduled
to go into effect March 13, would be delayed until May 12.
the rule could be further delayed - or even rescinded - depending on
outcome of several pending lawsuits.
RESPONSE BY ADMINISTRATION SIGNALS ROLLBACK
this year, the Boise Cascade Company, the State of Idaho and others
filed two separate lawsuits against the federal government to overturn
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Boise Cascade and the State of
Idaho also asked that the court issue an injunction to prevent the rule
being implemented while the case is being tried.
Wednesday, in response to the request for an injunction, and despite
by Attorney General John Ashcroft to the contrary, the Bush administration
offered absolutely no defense of the Roadless Area Conservation
Rule. In fact, the 5-page response did not attempt to address any
of the legal claims raised by Boise Cascade and the State of Idaho,
that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule lacked specific details,
was insufficient time for the State to respond and public participation
Jon Owen from the Washington Wilderness Coalition told NPR Radio,
heritage is on trial and our defense attorney just walked out of the
courtroom and started oiling up the chainsaws of the prosecution."
Bush administration showed its cards," said Tim Preso, attorney for
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the eight environmental
groups arguing in favor of the road ban. "This appears to be
calculated first step by the administration to avoid offering any
of the [Roadless Area Conservation Rule]." Rather
than the anemic response given by the Bush administration, the court
should have been told the simple truth: that the injunction should
be granted because the Roadless Area Conservation Rule complies with
legal requirements. "By
pulling its punches at this point, the administration is indicating
it may simply throw in the towel," said Mike Anderson of The
Society. "Their strategy seems to be either to use the lawsuits
an excuse to delay implementation of the rule or, by mounting so weak a
as to lose the case, allow the rule to be rescinded."
Judge will likely determine whether the injunction should be granted
in early April, following a March 30 hearing. If he grants the injunction,
the implementation of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule will be
again delayed. The
Wilderness Society, along with a coalition of organizations, has been
standing in the lawsuit. Through the efforts of lawyers at Earthjustice
Legal Defense Fund and National Resources Defense Council, the
conservation community is working to uphold the Roadless Area Conservation
Rule and protect our national forests.