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Roadless rule restored.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Bush administration ran into a much deserved judicial roadblock Wednesday on its industry-driven effort to repeal the immensely popular, sensible and scientifically sound 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

In a lawsuit filed by Oregon and three other states, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled that the administration failed to conduct required environmental studies before replacing the Clinton-era rule with a state petitioning process that could eliminate federal protections against road-building, logging and mining on up to 60 million largely pristine acres of federal lands.

While the administration will almost certainly appeal, the ruling is a heartening and hard-earned victory for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who has fiercely resisted the administration's plans to take a chainsaw to federal protections for 2 million acres of roadless areas in the state.

When the Bush administration announced its summary repeal of the roadless rule, it said it wanted to give states more control over federal lands within their jurisdictions. It invited the nation's governors, including Kulongoski, to recommend whether to develop or conserve roadless areas in their respective sates.

Kulongoski's response to the plan was an emphatic "no." The plan would encourage more aggressive timber sales, oil and gas drilling and mining on public lands. He submitted a petition that called for protecting every acre of roadless national forest in Oregon, and he joined with California, Washington state and New Mexico and 20 environmental groups in a lawsuit challenging the dismantling of the roadless rule.

The administration responded with a "spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-state" strategy. First, it refused to respond to Kulongoski's reasonable request that the federal government streamline a needlessly arduous petitioning process. Then it allowed salvage logging sales to proceed in Oregon's roadless forests, despite warnings by fire ecologists that the logging would damage an environmentally sensitive landscape already on its way to recovery.

Laporte rightly recognized that Bush's repeal of the roadless rule, unlike the rule itself, was taken without the benefit of sound scientific analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Of the nation's wildlife species currently listed as threatened, endangered or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act, 25 percent have their habitat in roadless areas.

Nor did the administration attempt to gauge public opinion, conducting zero public hearings before announcing the repeal. By contrast, Americans submitted 2 million comments in favor of the original rule, and the Forest Service last year received 1.8 million comments opposing the plan to repeal it.

That didn't deter Bush from crafting a new strategy that allowed governors to recommend whether to log, drill, build or conserve in roadless areas in their states. Of course, the administration was careful to give the Forest Service final say on whether protections would be granted, ensuring its ability to give logging and mining companies greater access to federal lands.

By allowing individual states to submit petitions, the administration also hoped that sparsely populated Western states would want to open federal lands within their boundaries to resource-extraction industries. As if to underscore that agenda, the governor of Idaho petitioned Wednesday, just hours after the judge's ruling, to eliminate most of the standing roadless protections in his state.

The only disappointing aspect of Laporte's ruling was her decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. As a result, up to 9.3 million acres will remain without protection and vulnerable to industrial-scale logging.

Despite Wednesday's welcome ruling, the roadless rule's future remains regrettably uncertain. The administration will probably seek an injunction from a different federal district judge or file an appeal that could take years to resolve and eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court - that is, unless Bush reconsiders his rapacious repeal of the roadless rule.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Judge says Bush skipped environmental studies
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 21, 2006
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