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U.S. Cancels Road Building in Forests

Action restores a rule from the Clinton era barring development on some federal land.

June 05, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A temporary rule allowing some road-building in remote areas of national forests will not be renewed, the Bush administration said Wednesday. The decision effectively reinstates a Clinton-era rule blocking development on 58 million acres of federal land.

"Our intention is ... to let the interim directive expire," Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said.

Environmentalists said the decision strengthens the rule put in place during the Clinton administration's final days and later upheld by a federal appeals court.

"It means the roadless rule will become the operative law for the Forest Service," said Mike Anderson of the Wilderness Society.

A spokesman for the timber industry played down the decision, noting that even under the interim rule, no new roads have been built in national forests.

"So in fact we've had ... the roadless rule in place for the last 2 1/2 years," said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, an industry group.

Although Rey and other officials have said they support the principles behind the roadless rule, the administration declined to defend it in court. That led environmental groups to intervene in an Idaho case brought by the Boise Cascade Corp. and a coalition of Western logging and snowmobiling interests.

A divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rule in December, saying the Forest Service had met all the legal requirements in developing the road ban, which covers nearly one-third of the nation's forests.

Rey said the administration will develop permanent guidelines for roadless areas once the interim rule expires June 14.

"We'd like to see something proposed this year," he said.

The interim rule, issued in late 2001, allows the Forest Service chief to make decisions on development in roadless areas while court cases challenging the rule are pending.

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