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To Log Or Not To Log

US Senator of Virginia George Allen, 2006/3/11, left, and candidate for US Senate of Virginia Jim Webb 2006/6/16
AP
"Sometimes progress is measured by expanding frontiers, other times, by protecting them."

With those words, President Clinton Friday fired another salvo in what some see as a war over the environment - between the administration that's soon to leave Washington and the one that's about to take over.

Mr. Clinton announced a ban on building roads in 58.5 million acres of national forests which do not already have roads. The ban amounts to a prohibition on most kinds of logging in nearly a third of the country's national forests.

"I grew up in a state where more than half the land is forests," said Mr. Clinton, "where many people can afford no other kind of vacation...Ultimately, this is about preserving the land the American people own. Not everyone can travel to the great palaces of the world."

Environmentalists are thrilled, but the timber, energy and mining industries say the new rules are too strict and some GOP lawmakers, especially from the Western states, are calling on President-elect Bush to scuttle the plan.

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Some critics are taking things a step further, and are planning to challenge the new rules in Congress and in court, on the grounds that they would disrupt new exploration for oil and natural gas.

The ban on roads in forestlocated in 38 different states is part of a flurry of last-minute activity by President Clinton as he approaches the end of his presidency.

In recent months he has proclaimed a number of new national monuments to further protect federal lands and is expected to designate several more before leaving office Jan. 20.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher says Mr. Clinton has been a "busy beaver" when it comes to last minute executive orders, recess appointments and regulations.

Fleisher adds that the incoming president respects Mr. Clinton's right to act within the full powers of the presidency, right up to his final minutes in office.

Fleisher says the Bush administration will do a complete review of the decisions made in the final phase of the Clinton administration.

USDA Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck takes exception to the idea that preservation of the forests is somehow a political issue and says when it comes to this decision, "political affiliation made no difference to me, and it makes no difference to the land."

Dombeck also points out that the National Forests currently supply just 6 percent of the country's timber, and the new rules will affect just a quarter of one percent of the nation's timber supply.

In a letter to Mr. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Republican Congressman Jim Hansen of Utah calls the ban on road building and the logging restrictions "one of the most egregious abuses by the Clinton administration."

Hansen also outlines other Clinton-era environmental actions he wants overturned, including a ban on snowmobiles in parks and the president's string of monument designations.

The forests protected by Friday's decision include 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and parts of Idaho's Bitterroot range, Florida's Apalachicola National Forest, Virginia's George Washington National Forest and New Hampshire's White Mountains.

The regulations limit future logging in the newly protected 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.

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.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, calls the new regulations "fatally flawed" and predicts they will be overturned by the courts.

Another critic, 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.

Rescinding the regulation may not be easy.

A coalition oDemocrats and moderate Republicans increasingly has opposed road-building in federal forests, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. He advises that anyone who wants to overturn the road ban had "better bring their lunch to that fight," because it will be intense.

The Wilderness Society hits the same note, in its news release praising Friday's decision, saying "Although some might try, this legacy of protection for our wild forests - with its widespread support - should never and can never be rolled back. The American people won't stand for it."

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