February 12, 2003 Conferees Approve Provisions to Expand Development in
Alaska National Forests By JENNIFER 8. LEE

This op-ed piece is from the New York Times today regarding Congress
slipping provisions into the spending bill that would exempt the Tongass and
Chugach National Forests from the U.S. Roadless Policy and open up their
remaining old growth to more logging. This is just the latest assault to
the Roadless Policy and comes on the heals of Boise's continued attacks
through the courts. Recently the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied
Boise's injunction on the Roadless policy and reinstated the rule. It looks
like Congress is planning on finishing the job for Boise. This would be a
great day to give your Congresspeople a call and let them know how you feel
about your National Forests.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 - Republicans have tucked provisions into the spending
bill that the House and Senate conferences are negotiating to permit road
building in two Alaska forests, expand timber harvesting in national forests
and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploratory oil drilling.
Democrats say the provisions would weaken Clinton-era protections for
national forests. Republicans say Democrats and conservation groups are
distorting the proposals to generate opposition to reasonable modifications
of overly restrictive policies. Republicans defeated a Democratic effort on
Monday to strip the forest amendments from the bill. As a result, the
changes will most likely be included if the $396 billion package is

Conservation groups said introducing those policies in the negotiations
seriously undermined the 2.2 million comments that the public submitted
before the policies were introduced in 2000. Industry groups said the
sweeping policies surprised the timber industry in 2000. The main
controversy centers on the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska.
The Tongass, the last large remaining rain forest in North America, is
roughly the size of West Virginia. The Chugach, the second largest national
forest, covers the Copper River Delta, home of a famous salmon run. "This is
the forest equivalent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Phil
Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, an environmental
group. The debate has been framed over whether the pristine forest is worth
the burden it puts on the 7.6 percent unemployment rate in Alaska. "We are
trying to restore those lost jobs," said Owen J. Graham, executive director
of the Alaska Forest Association, a trade group.

One amendment would exempt Alaska from "roadless" area policies that
permanently protect the more than 30 percent of the forests not open to
timber sales. More than half the national forests have been opened to
logging, and about 15 percent have been designated wilderness. The
"roadless" rules essentially protect the remaining land. If the restrictions
are lifted, 50 sales pending in the Tongass forest would proceed. A number
of the amendments were pushed by Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican
who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and who has received
significant contributions from the timber industry. Mr. Stevens defended his
amendments, saying he was trying to undo President Bill Clinton's
last-minute addition of land in Alaska to the roadless program despite a law
that prohibited adding land there. The Clinton administration's designation
of many areas of national forest as roadless areas has been challenged in
court by Western states, along with the timber industry. The opponents say
the government did not assemble enough public reaction for such a broad
action. Concern by Democrats and some moderate Republicans also focuses on
the introduction of the amendments. Eight moderate Republicans have sent a
letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, C. W. Young,
Republican of Florida, saying the last-minute secretive talks "seriously
undermine the legislative process." "It's not a good way to do business," a
signer of the letter, Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of
Delaware, said. "It's a practice that should not be followed." House
Republican leaders said they wanted to avoid a fight on the environment in
the spending legislation. Other amendments include a push to free Interior
Department money for drilling studies in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge, despite a 20-year-old ban on exploration there. In addition, the
amendments would expand a policy allowing timber companies to cut trees as
payment for clearing out undergrowth that poses a fire hazard. The
program's advocates say it is an economical way to pay for a much-needed
service. Conservation groups say the program kills trees to save trees.
Republicans are also proposing to exempt some forest plans from
administrative and legal challenges as a way to evade a tactic that
conservation groups use to delay sales to build in forests. "It means there
is no protection whatsoever for the public interest," said Representative
David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, whose amendment to strip some
Republican proposals failed. Industry officials said the exemption was
streamlining the challenge process from two rounds, with one for the overall
national forest development plan and one for individual land sales, to just
the individual sales. "It doesn't take away their right to protest," Mr.
Graham of the timber group said. "It takes away their second bite of the

Copyright 2003 < The New York Times Company