Citing the conservative gospel of states’ rights and forest fire protection, the Bush administration announced last week that it was replacing the “roadless rule” established by outgoing President Clinton with a new plan that would require state governors to petition the Forest Service to block any road-building in their states for logging purposes. While the controversial Clinton plan had closed off 58 million acres of inaccessible and in some cases pristine Forest Service lands to road building and ensuing timber extraction, the new plan puts the onus on governors—many of whom won office on the merits of their pro-development positions—to keep loggers out.
“Strong state and federal cooperation in the management of roadless areas will foster improved local involvement in the process,” said Anne Veneman, Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture. Veneman, whose agency oversees the Forest Service, announced the new plan on the steps of Idaho’s capitol, flanked by Governor Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, both conservative Idaho Republicans who have been vocal about their opposition to Clinton’s “roadless rule.” Both men joined timber industry representatives in praising the new plan.
But not all Western governors see eye-to-eye on the issue. New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, said the Forest Service was “walking away from environmental protection” and that he would ask that all 1.1 million acres of roadless land in his state remain protected. Richardson added that he will urge other Western governors to take a similar stance.
Several environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society, the National Environmental Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have joined Richardson by expressing their distaste for the new plan. “This is a roadblock to roadless protection,” said Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The administration is not concerned about states’ rights.” Critics point out that Bush has actively circumvented states’ rights in many issues during his tenure, including over gay marriage, medical marijuana, education and civil liberties. Michael Greve of the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Federalism Project told the Associated Press, “The extent to which the Bush administration has subordinated states’ rights is somewhat breathtaking.”