[Homestead] Halting assault on Federal National Forests

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Fri Sep 3 13:50:43 EDT 2004

latimes.com <http://www.latimes.com/>


  We Can Still Halt Bush's Assault on Wilderness

By Bob Devine
Bob Devine is the author of "Bush Versus the Environment" (Anchor Books, 

September 3, 2004

The Wilderness Act was signed into law 40 years ago because Americans 
feared that what remained of our wild places would be paved over or 
plowed under if we didn't protect it. People worried that they'd no 
longer have wilderness in which to fish, camp, hike, canoe, hunt and 
savor the beauty of the great outdoors. Our species lived in the wild 
for eons, and even modern humans instinctively feel a profound bond with 
untamed landscapes.

The Bush administration, however, seems to have overcome this instinct, 
motivated by a desire to open public lands to logging, mining and, 
especially, oil and gas development. It has systematically worked to 
undermine the protection of wild places — the intent behind the 
Wilderness Act.

The president and his appointees — many of whom have ties to these 
extractive industries — have used many stratagems to prevent additional 
federal lands from being protected. Consider their sustained assault on 
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, created under President Clinton to 
restrict development on 58.5 million acres of unspoiled lands in our 
national forests. First, the Bush administration briefly suspended the 
rule. It subsequently became tied up in legal challenges and still has 
not been implemented.

Most recently, the Bush administration proposed a regulation that 
essentially would supersede the roadless rule, allowing development 
unless a state governor intervened to stop it. Many of these roadless 
areas lie in Western states whose governors favor short-term economic 
gain for a few favored industries over sustainable development and 
environmental protection. Even if a governor objected to development, 
the proposal would allow the administration to override the request. In 
another attack on wilderness preservation, the administration reached 
all the way back to an obscure 1866 law. Intended to allow road 
construction across federal lands to connect towns, this obsolete law 
was repealed in 1976 — except for one provision covering already 
established roads. In 2003, the administration announced new policies 
that widened that narrow exception into a gaping loophole. These 
policies permit attempts by states and counties to construe old wagon 
roads, foot paths, horse trails and even tracks created by illegal 
off-road vehicle traffic as "constructed highways" under the 1866 statute.

In California, for instance, San Bernardino County is trying to claim 
hundreds of miles of dubious routes in the Mojave National Preserve as 
established highways under this loophole. Once granted the right of way, 
states and counties can bulldoze those imaginary roads into true roads, 
even if they cross pristine lands. That would preclude wilderness 
designation on those lands and allow development.

Perhaps the biggest blow to wilderness preservation occurred in 2003 in 
a sweetheart settlement between the administration and the government of 
Utah. The deal in essence directs the Bureau of Land Management to stop 
looking for potential new wilderness areas to preserve and opens 
previously protected BLM lands to development. The settlement affects 
all 262 million acres managed by the BLM throughout the country, which 
puts millions of acres of wild lands on the auction block. Already, the 
oil-and-gas exploration rigs are rolling into former wild lands.

Fortunately, it's not too late to curb the Bush assault on our 
wilderness. A number of pending legal challenges should help. So should 
the surge of bipartisan citizen protest, notably the dismay expressed by 
Republican hunters and anglers. They believe in the old slogan 
"Conservation is conservative." Let's hope a passion for conserving wild 
places prevails among conservatives and liberals alike, as it has in the 
past. Otherwise the Wilderness Act's 40th-anniversary celebration may 
turn out to be a wake.


Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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