- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

A top administration official is under fire for dismissing the concerns of handicapped people who oppose President Clinton's environmental legacy plan to ban road-building in national forests.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said yesterday forest chief Mike Dombeck owes an apology to the group, Disabled Americans for Federal Forest Enjoyment.

A Forest Service spokesman called the group's charge that a proposal to ban new roads would restrict their access to forests a "blatant red herring" and that access would not be impaired.

"I think that was a phenomenal gesture of insensitivity," said Mr. Craig, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on forests and public land management.

"This was done in a crass way, and they have to apologize for being not so politically correct," Mr. Craig said.

A Forest Service spokesman would not comment on the apology request, but said the spokesman's comments were not directed at the group.

"This is an important issue for a lot of people and there are a lot of different perspectives we will listen to and incorporate into our final [plan]," said spokesman Rex Holloway.

This is the second time in three weeks Mr. Dombeck has been called on to apologize for statements concerning the president's forest proposal.

Lawmakers and loggers charged the proposal had "carelessly dabbled in pop psychology" by characterizing forest industry workers as uneducated, unstable and unmotivated.

Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, wrote Mr. Dombeck on May 11 demanding the language be removed and an apology made for the "condescending and ignorant statements."

Mr. Dombeck responded in a May 15 letter that he had a great deal of respect and admiration for those in the logging community.

"If there is anything in the roadless [plan] that implies otherwise, I apologize and will ensure it is corrected in the final roadless area environmental impact statement," Mr. Dombeck said.

Bruce C. Grefrath, president of the disabled group, said in a May 16 letter to Mr. Dombeck he was offended by the "name calling."

"I urge you to instruct your agency spokesperson to speak with more sensitivity and forthrightness," Mr. Grefrath said.

"Disabled Americans are not red herrings," he said.

Mr. Grefrath also said his group was disappointed the agency had not explained how disabled people would be affected by the plan.

"This effort to close our national forests to disabled Americans has not gone unnoticed, nor will it go unchallenged," Mr. Grefrath said.

Mr. Holloway noted the agency has received 365,000 letters in response to the proposal, and said the disabled group's letter would be included for review.

The proposal, which environmentalists have hailed as Mr. Clinton's most important environmental legacy, would ban road construction in 43 million acres of roadless federal forests.

The initiative would allow local Forest Service officials to decide whether logging, mining and off-road-vehicle use would be allowed.

Lawyers representing the disabled have warned the plan could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, and lawmakers critical of the proposal predict that if it is enacted, the agency would face a flood of lawsuits.

The Pacific Legal Foundation also has written Mr. Dombeck on behalf of disabled Americans concerned about access.

"The potential that a federal agency might be contemplating policies that will cause a substantial reduction in the existing and future potential access into our national forests is not good policy," foundation lawyer James S. Burling said in a March 28 letter.

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