From: Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters
Published September 21, 2006 12:00 AM

U.S. Judge Rejects Bush Rule on Logging Roads

WASHINGTON — In a setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge rejected a rule that allowed logging roads in national forests and reinstated environmental protections put in place by former President Clinton.

In a decision released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte of California's Northern District ruled to set aside the Bush administration policy that gave states more control over whether to protect national forest land within state borders from development.

Laporte ordered that the Clinton-era Roadless Rule, enacted in early 2001, should be put back into effect. That rule gave the federal government the responsibility for keeping roads and development out of some 50 million acres of wilderness lands.

Environmental groups, including some that were plaintiffs in the case against the U.S. Agriculture Department and Forest Service, hailed the decision.

But Dave Tenny, deputy undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, defended the Bush administration policy, under which states must petition to protect roadless areas.

"Obviously we don't agree with the court decision," Tenny said by telephone. "We had embarked on an effort to work with individual states to provide roadless area protection. ... We've had great success with that."

Tenny said five states -- Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and Idaho -- had asked for that protection, and Colorado was expected to do so soon. He added the administration was considering its legal options.

The Bush rule was put in place in May 2005 and had the effect of allowing logging on national forest lands, said Michael Anderson, a legal analyst with the Wilderness Society.

"It removed the protection from roadbuilding and logging," Anderson said in a telephone interview from Seattle. "It opened the door to development of these wilderness areas."

"You have an administration who's trying to overcome the wishes of the American people," said Michael Francis of the Wilderness Society, which was a plaintiff along with 19 other ecology groups and the states of California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington.

"They've done it in such a way that the American people have had to fight every step of the way to try to protect these roadless areas, and the American people have won this round," Francis said by telephone.

"Keeping America's remaining wild roadless forests in their current condition maintains an important balance between developing some already roaded forests and preserving special places for American traditions of hunting, fishing, hiking and boating," Sean Cosgrove of the Sierra Club said in a statement.

The Forest Service, an agency of the Agriculture Department, manages some 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

Source: Reuters

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