No roadless forest changes before election

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Bush administration said Wednesday it will put off until after the election a final decision on a plan to allow road building and logging on 58 million acres of remote forests where both are now prohibited.

Public comments on the proposed rule change, announced in July, will be accepted through Nov. 15.

Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, said the delay was a “fairly straightforward” response to requests from a variety of groups for more time.

“It’s unrelated to the elections,” Rey said.

Environmentalists said the administration appeared to be rethinking the plan — at least temporarily — in the face of widespread opposition.

“I think the administration recognizes the folly of opening up 58 million acres of protected forests during an electoral campaign,” said Jay Ward, political director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, an environmental group.

The administration said in July it was reversing a 2001 executive order by President Clinton that prohibited road construction on nearly one-third of federal forestland. The ban on roads has meant no logging, mining or oil and gas development.

The new policy calls for governors to decide by 2006 whether to petition the federal government to permit new roads in their forests or keep them untouched.

The bulk of the land is in the West, including 4.4 million acres in Colorado, 2 million acres each in Oregon and Washington state, and 1.6 million acres in New Mexico. All are considered important states in the Nov. 2 presidential election.

More than 2.5 million people commented on the original Clinton plan; about 95 percent favored forest protection.