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Protect roadless areas.

Byline: The Register-Guard

A year has passed since the Bush administration took a chainsaw to federal protections for nearly 60 million acres of roadless areas in national forests.

In announcing its summary repeal of the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule, the administration said it wanted to give state and local authorities more control over federal lands within their jurisdictions. It invited governors to recommend whether to develop or conserve roadless areas in their respective states.

Last week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski delivered his response. He said "no thanks" to a plan that would encourage more aggressive timber sales, oil and gas drilling and mining on public lands. The governor's petition called for protecting all of the nearly 2 million acres of roadless national forests in Oregon.

Kulongoski also called on the U.S. Forest Service to halt plans to log roadless wildlands burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire - one of nearly two dozen inventoried roadless areas that the administration has targeted for development despite its earlier promise to keep protections in place until the state petitioning process is completed.

The administration isn't likely to respond favorably to Kulongoski's requests. In repealing the roadless rule it set aside a 20-year process that included 600 public meetings and generated 1.7 million comments, 95 percent of them favoring the strongest possible protection for roadless lands.

Despite its "local control" rhetoric, the administration designed the petitioning process to ensure that the federal government has the final say. If states submit petitions judged too favorable to conservation, the Forest Service is under no obligation to approve them.

In recognition of that reality, Kulongoski last year joined California and New Mexico in a lawsuit challenging the administration's dismantling of the roadless rule. Several other states have joined the suit, which is still pending.

When Kulongoski last year inquired if the petitioning process could be streamlined to allow states to opt back into the original roadless rule, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said Kulongoski would receive no response until Oregon withdrew from the lawsuit challenging the roadless repeal. So much for local control.

Kulongoski's concerns about the administration's repeal of the roadless rule are well grounded. At a time when the federal government can't maintain its existing road network on public lands, building new roads in difficult or sensitive terrain invites environmental damage. Resource extraction, along with the road building that goes with it, will cause increased erosion, fragment sensitive fish and wildlife habitats and degrade pristine lands that are the source of drinking water and recreation for millions.

Public outrage over the Bush reversal has been steadily growing. Last week, a coalition of outdoor businesses, including several in Oregon, sent a letter urging the administration to protect roadless areas and warning that backcountry development would hurt them financially.

Americans cherish this nation's public lands and forests, and they expect their federal government to honor their wishes to protect roadless areas for future generations.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Kulongoski petitions to preserve 2 million acres
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 25, 2006
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