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Leader
24 Dec 03,, 17:56
Gov't Opens 300,000 Acres in Alaska to Logging

WASHINGTON Reversing a Clinton-era policy, the Bush administration opened 300,000 more acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest on Tuesday to possible logging or other development.

The decision allows 3 percent of the forest's 9.3 million acres, which were put off-limits to road-building by the former Clinton administration, to have roads built on them and perhaps to be opened to use by the timber industry.

"The people of Alaska benefit," said spokesman Bill Bradshaw (search) of the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Agriculture Department.

John Passacantando (search), executive director of Greenpeace USA, accused the administration of "gutting the last pristine temperate rain forest" in the United States.

Agriculture Department (search) officials, with approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget, decided to exempt the acreage from the so-called roadless rule, an often-challenged Clinton-era policy.

Imposed during President Clinton's final days in office, the rule had sought to block development of 58.5 million acres, or nearly one-third of the national forests.

It was struck down in July by a federal district judge in Wyoming and currently is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Forest Service officials said their decision "maintains the balance for roadless area protection" while still "providing opportunities for sustainable economic development" in the 16.8 million-acre Tongass National Forest.

"People in 32 communities within the Tongass National Forest depend on the forest for subsistence and social and economic health," officials said in a statement. "Most communities lack road and utility connections to other communities."

In August, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski said the roadless rule, which effectively have locked away portions of the Tongass and Chugach national forests from major timber development, was "unlawful and unwise."

The Republican governor, a former senator, demanded that the Forest Service exempt Alaska from the roadless rule on grounds it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Former Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles also had filed a federal lawsuit in 2001 challenging the rule. A federal judge in Idaho blocked the roadless ban in May 2001, saying it needed to be amended, but that ruling was overturned last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Environmentalists said they were alarmed by the decision, and that it would mean the loss of protection for all 9.3 million acres of inventoried roadless areas.

"Our public lands are under attack," said Cindy Shogan of the Alaska Wilderness League. "The Bush administration won't be happy until the timber industry has reduced the heart of America's rain forest to stumps."

But Ray Massey, a spokesman in Juneau for the Forest Service's Alaska region, said those roadless areas still are protected by a 1997 forest management plan, which allows for development in some places but not in others, based on scientific reviews and other studies.

"They've just discounted what we consider to be one of the best land-management plans ever done," Massey said about claims by environmentalists. "We've been actively managing this place for 100 years."

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,106551,00.html