- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

In the closing weeks of his administration, President Clinton issued an executive order imposing a ban on road construction on 60 million acres of federal land. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the rule prohibits road construction and reconstruction except in cases where lives or property are threatened by catastrophic events, and also disallows the "cutting, sale, and removal of timber in inventoried roadless areas," except all but essentially cosmetic reasons.

The rule dead-ends any development of such land, whether for logging, mining, or even simple tourism. The most obvious targets of the initiative - the industries that environmentalists would like journalists and the public to consider the face of the opposition to it - certainly have felt its effects. A spokesman for Arch Coal Inc., which owns a mine in Colorado, told the Rocky Mountain News, "This has a very real potential of crimping our ability to expand," and timber companies have voiced similar concerns. Even the Forest Service has acknowledged that jobs will be washed away.

Additionally, however, the rule effectively ends the access of Americans to their own lands. As Rep. James Hansen, chairman of the House Resources Committee pointed out, "The majority of vehicles on forest roads aren't owned by loggers, miners or drillers. They are owned by people like you and me. President Clinton has just shut the American people out of 60 million acres of their own land." Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas opined, "This is the last gasp of a hostile Clinton agenda to drive people off their public lands."

In a statement announcing the rule, the Forest Service claimed that its responsibility to "consider the whole picture" mandated the bypass of local (and thus, individual) concerns. Demonstrating tunnel vision and arrogance in equal proportion, the statement continued, "If management decisions for these areas were made on a case-by-case basis at a forest or regional level, inventoried roadless areas and their ecological characteristics and social values could be reduced though road construction and certain forms of timber harvest." Building a bridge to what seems the hoped-for terminus of the rule, the Forest Service claimed, "Local land management planning may not always recognize the national significance of inventoried roadless areas and the values they represent in an increasingly developed landscape."

In other words, the rule is designed to circumvent development of any sort, and driving people off, or at least not allowing them to drive through public lands at all, is an acceptable way to do so. Yet public lands, regardless of whatever "social values" the intellectual gremlins at the Forest Service endow them with, are a public trust to be utilized by all Americans.

Historian Daniel Filner observed of the great conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt: "Roosevelt's commitment to federal action to ensure land access to all socioeconomic classes was fostered in part by his belief that wilderness recreation … engendered in men the qualities essential for good citizenship."

During his inaugural address, President George W. Bush called Americans to take the path to citizenship. He could encourage them to take that road by taking down Mr. Clinton's "no trespassing signs."

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