Governor blasts new forest policy

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) – Gov. Ted Kulongoski feels the new Bush administration policy- opening 1.2 million acres of roadless areas in Oregon to potential logging -amounts to saddling the state with work the U.S. Forest Service should be doing itself.

Roadless areas are large sections of national forests where little or no logging has occurred, originally because their rugged terrain and remote locations made logging uneconomical, and more recently because scientists identified them as more valuable for clean water and fish and wildlife habitat.

The Bush administration, Thursday, adopted a new rule for roadless areas that opens for consideration 1.2 million acres in Oregon – 60 percent of the 2 million acres that were off-limits under a 2001 Clinton administration rule.

Under the new rule, governors have 18 months to tell the Forest Service how they would like to see roadless areas managed, but the Forest Service retains the final say under management plans for individual national forests.

“What they are really doing is taking a federal responsibility and imposing it on the governors, and imposing it at a time the states are strained to find the capacity to do the business of the state,” said Mike Carrier, natural resources adviser to the governor.

National forests cover 15.7 million acres in Oregon, of which 2 million acres – 13 percent – are inventoried as roadless. Another 3 million acres remain off-limits to logging as wilderness areas and other classifications.

With the 2001 roadless rule gone, management plans for individual national forests allow road construction on 1.2 million acres, while continuing to prohibit road building on 797,000 acres, according to the Forest Service.

The timber industry does not expect to be logging roadless areas any time soon, because they still face a lengthy environmental evaluation that gives states and the public a greater say in the outcome than ever before, said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council.

Environmentalists see the new rule as the Bush administration’s latest step to open public lands to exploitation.

“It’s a way of giving anti-environmental governors a special influence, whereas pro-environmental governors will be just flat-out rejected,” said Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.