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Lawsuit challenges "roadless rule" repeal

By by PARIS ACHEN
Mail Tribune
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Twenty conservation groups, including four from Oregon, sued the Bush administration Thursday over a policy that allows logging, road construction and other development on 58.5 million acres of roadless national forestland.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in San Francisco, came five weeks after the states of Oregon, California and New Mexico challenged the policy.

"We want to be part of the vanguard of the national movement to protect national forests," said Rolf Skar, campaign director for the Cave Junction-based Siskiyou Regional Education Project, one of the plaintiffs.

In January 2001, eight days before he left office, President Clinton closed nearly one-third of the nation’s 192 million acres of national forestland to logging, road construction and development.

Roadless areas include nearly 3,000 square miles in Oregon. About 365,500 acres are in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

In May, the Bush administration repealed the regulation, replacing it with a policy that gave governors 18 months to petition the U.S. Forest Service to keep their states’ forests closed to roads, development and logging.

Oregon, California and New Mexico argued that the Bush administration’s repeal of the "roadless rule" violated federal law because the government failed to conduct a complete analysis of how the change would impact the environment.

Unlike the states’ lawsuit, the conservation groups allege the Bush administration’s policy fails to protect threatened and endangered species, said Kristen Boyles, the Seattle attorney with Earthjustice that will lead the case.

"Especially in the Pacific Northwest, we have big, intact forested areas that provide much more than the sale of logs," said Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, another plaintiff. "They give us clean drinking water, habitat for endangered species and biodiversity for science and medical research. We are outraged at the Bush administration’s attempt to sell off what remains of the country’s national heritage."

The Bush administration policy could have large-scale implications for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, where one of the first roadless timber projects is planned.

The 335-acre Mike’s Gulch sale, about five miles west of Selma, was part of the 2002 Biscuit fire. The fire burned about 500,000 acres largely in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The Forest Service has not yet decided whether to move forward with the plan.

"We are still assessing the situation on Mike’s Gulch to determine whether to offer it as a sale," said Rex Holloway, a regional spokesman for the Forest Service.

Holloway said the Forest Service will consider timber market conditions and the rate of wood deterioration in its decision.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4496 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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