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JANUARY 05, 02:33 EST
Clinton Moves to Protect Forests
By H. JOSEF HEBERT
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton is declaring nearly a third of the country's federal forest land off limits to most logging, but some Republicans already are urging incoming President-elect Bush to scuttle the plan.
The president, who was announcing the massive forest protection plan Friday, is determined to establish a legacy for protecting public lands as he completes the final weeks of his presidency.
In recent months he has proclaimed a number of new national monuments to further protect federal lands and was expected to designate several more before he leaving office on Jan. 20. But his forest protection rules, covering nearly 60 million acres of roadless forest lands in 38 states, have been even more controversial.
``The president pledged more than a year ago to protect these places, and this action fulfills that commitment,'' White House spokesman Elliott Diringer said. ``It restores balance to our national forests and ensures strong protection of these extraordinary lands for future generations.''
But the forest plan, largely intact from a proposal unveiled in November, has come under intense attack from mostly Republican Western lawmakers, and from energy, timber and mining industries as being too restrictive.
Last week, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, the new chairman of the House Resources Committee, urged Bush to work with Congress to roll back the expected forest regulation.
In a letter to Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Hansen called the ban on road building and the logging restrictions ``one of the most egregious abuses by the Clinton administration.''
Hansen also outlined other Clinton-era environmental actions that ought to be overturned — from banning snowmobiles in parks to the president's string of monument designations.
Under the forest plan, the Forest Service will ban road building in 58.5 million acres of federal forests where no roads currently exit, including 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
The regulations also will limit future logging in those areas to only activities that ``restore and preserve'' the forest, although commercial timber contracts already in the government pipeline will be allowed to go through. In some cases that could amount to continued logging for another six to seven years at today's harvesting rates, officials acknowledged.
Some environmentalists had wanted the timber sales stopped immediately. Still, environmentalists applauded Clinton's decision, while at the same time voicing concern that Bush may blunt its implementation or work with its opponents in Congress to reverse it.
Any efforts to overturn it ``would come with a great deal of political liability for Bush. This has huge public support,'' maintained Kenneth Rait of the Heritage Forest Campaign, an Oregon-based environmental group.
Despite an outcry from some Western lawmakers, Clinton has all along been determined to complete the forest plan before he leaves office. One senior adviser characterized it as largely a question of leaving an environmental legacy.
The vast majority of roadless federal forests are in the West, including parts of Idaho's Bitterroot range and Alaska's Tongass, viewed by environmentalists as North America's rain forest. Smaller sections are scattered across the country from Florida's Apalachicola National Forest and Virginia's George Washington National Forest to New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Clinton advisers have argued that the impact on the timber industry would be minimal because the roadless areas — although 31 percent of all federal forests — account for only a small percentage of all timber taken from government-owned land.
Still, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the plan ``fatally flawed'' and predicted it likely will be overturned by the courts. He has complained that the road-building restrictions would prevent the development of large reserves of natural gas, especially in the intermountain West. Timber, mining and energy industries already have threatened lawsuits against the forest plan.
Another of the plan's most vocal critics, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has promised ``to leave no stone unturned'' to find a way to block the Clinton regulation. Several senators have said they will use a never-been-invoked 1996 law that allows Congress to rescind a regulation within 60 days.
But rescinding the regulation may not be easy.
A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans increasingly has opposed road-building in federal forests, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. As to those who want to overturn Clinton's plan, ``they better bring their lunch to that fight'' because it will be intense, said Miller.