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White Mountains preservation gets boost.

The U.S. Senate has passed an act that expands the amount of the White Mountain National Forest considered untouchable wilderness area, and a federal judge reinstated a "roadless rule" that keeps out commercial activity, especially logging, from much of the area.

The New England Wilderness Act of 2006, passed by unanimous consent of the Senate, designates 34,500 acres of wilderness area, including a new area around the Wild River Valley, south of Gorham, and expanded area on the Sandwich Range, near Conway. It would expand the portion of the national forest designated as wilderness by about one-third.

The act, which also expands wilderness areas in Vermont's Green Mountains, must still be approved by the House.

"We applaud the hard work of Senators Sununu and Gregg in New Hampshire and their counterparts in Vermont that led to the passage," said Walter Graft, deputy director of the Appalachian Mountain Club, in a prepared statement. "Throughout their careers, Senators Sununu and Gregg and their colleagues in Vermont have been strong champions for the White Mountain and Green Mountain national forests and the multiple-use approach to managing them."

Wilderness is a term for public lands designated by Congress to be managed for their wild character. Based on the Wilderness Act of 1964, it allows non-motorized recreation such as hiking, hunting, fishing and camping, but bans virtually all motorized activity, as well as such things as commercial logging.

According to the AMC, only three percent of the nation's designated wilderness area lies east of the Mississippi River. The White Mountain National Forest, which makes up 14 percent of New Hampshire, and is one of the largest tracts of public land in the Northeast. It attracts an estimated 6 million visitors a year.

Also, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte threw out the Bush administration's Roadless Area Development Rule of 2005.

The ruling, which must still be clarified in injunctions from the court, appears to reinstate the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001.

That rule virtually eliminated the possibility of logging in designated roadless areas, including about 235,000 acres in the White Mountains, or almost one-third of that national forest.

The 2005 rule substituted a state petition process that eliminated federal protections against logging and mining. That change drew a lawsuit from 20 environmental groups and four Western states against the U.S. Forest Service that was supported by Laporte.

In her ruling, Laporte said the 2005 change "is not merely procedural" but "substantively affects the environment, both by revoking the far-reaching national protections of the prior rule and by instituting in its place a new hybrid management scheme ... that allows far more road construction and timber harvesting."

The administration has 60 days to appeal.
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Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Sep 29, 2006
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