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Bush Strips Logging & Drilling Protections from US Forests

Political Move Dubbed "Leave No Tree Behind"

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Updated July 20, 2005
Attention backpackers, hunters, campers, hikers and all who love trout fishing. Plan your trips to paradise now, because much of paradise will soon be spoiled.

The loggers, miners and gas-drillers are coming to America’s national forests, and they’re coming soon. With the stroke of a pen in May 2005, the President opened nearly 60 million acres of protected US National Forest land to development and road-building.

In what critics dub “No Tree Left Behind,” Bush opened forests in 39 states to development, 97% of them in 12 western states. Among them are areas in some of the most beloved, beautiful and oldest US wildernesses, including:

- The Grand Canyon
- Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forests in California
- California’s Sierra Nevada backcountry
- Oregon’s Wild Rivers area
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest
- Boise National Forest in Idaho
- Colorado’s Rocky Mountain backcountry
- Olympic National Forest in Washington
- White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire
- Tongass & Chugach National Forests in Alaska
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Continental Divide Scenic Trail

Background In the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to protect millions of acres of America's most stunning national forests. It was the advent of the auto and the world’s thirst for petroleum, as well as timber.

Bill Clinton preserved US national forests as a special mission of his administration. After 600 public meetings over 2 years and 4 million public comments, Clinton signed into law the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, issued by the US Forest Service in January 2001, to take effect in March. The rule protects 60 million acres of forest, one-third of US forests.

Mr. Clinton wrote “The wild lands that are now protected by the Roadless Rule are a fragile and priceless gift to all Americans. Once lost, they are gone forever.”

In one of his first Executive acts, Bush stopped the landmark Roadless Rule from becoming effective. In July 2004, he revoked the entire rule. In May 2005, the Bush team issued a “final rule” that invites input from governors as to why their states should be exempted from development.

This state petitioning process imposes tight deadlines and cumbersome reporting and analysis requirements at a time when states are short of funds due to massive federal budget cuts by the Bush Administration. And Bush is under no obligation to follow state petitions.

Why Protect National Forests? Roadless forest areas are havens for fish, wildlife and thousands of endangered plants and animals. They also supply clean, unpolluted drinking water for 60 million Americans.

And these natural refuges from modern life offer some of the nation’s best backcountry fishing, hunting, hiking and camping.

What Happens When Forests Are Not Protected? More than half of US forests have already been degraded by logging, road building and other destructive activities. Per the Sierra Club,” The 440,000 miles of roads that scar our National Forest--most built for the logging industry and paid for with tax dollars—have destroyed wildlife habitats, caused mudslides and polluted water.”

The National Resources Defense Council contends that roadless areas serve as buffer zones that help prevent wildfires.

Who Wants to Remove Forest Protections? The timber industry, of course. The Independent Petroleum Assn of America said that 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be developed in previously restricted areas. It's all about corporate profits.

What’s Next? Bush “temporarily” exempted two Alaskan forests from the Roadless Rule in 2003, despite 250,000 opposing public comments. Private industry has complete freedom for large-scale logging in the Tongass National Forest, the largest old-growth temperate rainforest on earth. Fifty timber sales are now moving forward there.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed in federal courts on both sides of the issue. On May 4, 2005, the Denver-based Court of Appeals started hearings aimed at overturning another federal court’s decision to uphold scrapping the Roadless Rule. An attorney for Earthjustice believes that Bush is rushing forward before the Denver judge can reverse the previous ruling.

The Final Word From New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who calls the move anti-environment and a wholesale assault to drill more oil and gas and cut more timber. “It’s going to start a war in the West.”

What Can You Do? Support the groups fighting to save US forests from destruction: the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace and others. Write to your governor and federal elected officials.

And be sure to contact the US Forest Service by phone at 202-205-8333, by email at www.fs.fed.us/contactus, or by mail at USDA Forest Service; 1400 Independence Ave SW; Washington DC; 20250-0003.

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