updated 8/17/2007 9:43:26 AM ET 2007-08-17T13:43:26

The Forest Service on Thursday proposed new rules for managing 193 million acres of national forests, responding to a court ruling that tossed out policies giving forest managers great discretion to approve logging and other commercial projects.

The Forest Service said the new rules, to take effect after a 60-day comment period, would make land management plans more adaptable to changing conditions while ensuring continued public involvement in the nation's 155 national forests.

But environmentalists said the Bush administration was again trying to strip important protections for wildlife and clean water, despite a court order rejecting the administration's approach.

"This new effort makes clear that the administration continues to try to push through favors for its friends in the timber, mining and oil and gas industries, even as the clock runs out on its term in office," said Tim Preso, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental group whose lawsuit led to a March ruling throwing out the administration's 2005 rules.

The proposed rule could harm wildlife, lead to increased logging in close proximity to streams and remove limits on the size of clearcuts, Preso said.

Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell said the new rules let the Forest Service protect the environment in an efficient and inclusive manner. The plan includes a draft environmental impact statement with five alternatives that officials said would strengthen the role of science in forest management and allow more public input in the planning process.

The proposal "improves land management plans by making them more adaptable to changing conditions and the desires of the American people," Kimbell said.

The new proposal follows a March 30 court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton in San Francisco, who declared that the administration failed to consider the environmental effects of its 2005 forest rules adequately. She also said the government didn't get proper public input.

The ruling overturned a key environmental rule that governs all 193 million acres of national forests and stopped pro-business plans in the forests under way for more than two years.

When government officials announced the first new rules since the 1970s, they said changes would let forest managers respond more quickly to wildfires and other threats such as invasive species.

The 2005 rules would have enabled forest plan revisions to be completed in two to three years, instead of up to seven years under previous rules, officials said.

A Forest Service spokeswoman said the new plan would take effect after 60 days and was not subject to judicial review.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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