The Clinton administration yesterday released its draft plan to ban road building in 43 million acres of the nation’s forests, but backed down from a sweeping proposal to eliminate logging, mining and some forms of recreation.
The retreat prompted key environmental groups to publicly oppose the long-awaited Forest Service proposal, heralded as Mr. Clinton’s environmental legacy.
“The choice the Forest Service made is incorrect, and one all of us are disappointed in,” said Bill Meadows, director of the Wilderness Society.
“There is no environmental support for this,” said Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.
The proposal would eliminate any new road construction through national forests, but would leave decisions involving logging, mining and the use of off-road vehicles to local foresters.
In a telephone conference call with reporters, the environmental leaders said the Forest Service’s plan was not what Mr. Clinton intended when he called for regulations banning new roads.
However his cabinet official in charge of the Forest Service said the president’s orders were followed.
“The president made it clear not to turn the national forests into museums, rather to move to protect roadless areas and to continue to responsibly manage timber activity,” said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
“This shows that environmental stewardship and economic development can go hand in hand,” Mr. Glickman said.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized the road ban, saying it would exclude access to half of the country’s most beautiful forests.
“It will remain beautiful, but you will only be able to see it if you are hearty enough to visit without following a road,” Mr. Murkowski said.
The proposal, which would affect 155 national forests in 39 states, has drawn an “unprecedented” amount of public response, Mr. Glickman said.
The agency has held nearly 200 public hearings on the proposal and received 365,000 comments from the public.
Mr. Glickman said the Forest Service will hold an additional 200 meetings during this 60-day public comment period.
Sierra Club Director Carl Pope said the organization is planning an extensive advertising campaign during those 60 days urging the public to call for a logging ban and other restrictions.
Mr. Pope said the campaign will be the “largest citizen mobilization the environmental community has ever undertaken.”
The environmental leaders said they also were disappointed the plan exempted the nation’s largest forest, the 8 million-acre Tongess in Alaska, from any logging restrictions.
“Leaving the Tongess out of the policy puts the credibility of the entire policy in question,” said Marty Hayden, director of Earth Justice.