The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post:
One of the most significant accomplishments of the Clinton administration was the shift in focus of the U.S. Forest Service from extracting resources from the national forests to managing those lands for broader benefits, including environmental and recreational values. That long-overdue change found its ultimate expression in the "roadless rule," which barred new road-building in 58.5 million acres of untouched national forest land, protecting those wild areas from future incursions. On one level, the rule was a practical response to a management problem: The Forest Service has an $8 billion maintenance backlog on existing roads, and one way to improve care of the existing system is to stop expanding it. More important, though, the rule drew a bright line between the forest lands already opened to development and those that remain unspoiled, aiming to protect the wild areas for future generations.
For the past year, the rule has been in limbo. It has been the subject of court challenges, including one Idaho case, now being appealed by environmental groups, in which a federal judge held that the process by which the rule was drafted failed to meet legal requirements. The Bush administration, which pledged to uphold the roadless measure, is crafting its own version of the policy but has issued interim directives that advocates say chip away at its protections. Proposed timber contracts and oil and gas leases that could threaten roadless areas are under consideration in national forests ranging from Colorado to California.
Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey says that no timber sales have been completed that would not have been allowed under the Clinton policy, and that fears about future incursions into roadless areas are premature. He says the Forest Service is committed to producing a roadless rule that will stand up to legal challenge. But some members of Congress, concerned about the administration's direction and its failure to strongly defend the roadless policy in court, aren't waiting. Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., are set to introduce a bill that would turn the original Clinton rule into law. The measure has attracted 172 cosponsors and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is preparing a companion measure in the Senate. Congress is right to put on the pressure.
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