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Bush plan threatens roadless areas

For the past three years, forest conservation groups have been asserting that the Bush administration’s real goal on our national forests is to increase logging of big trees in order to please timber industry campaign contributors. The administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative,” for example, is widely seen as a mere smoke screen for commercial logging.

The announcement of Bush’s new proposal for our remaining roadless areas, however, indicates the administration has grown tired of pretending. Recently, the administration announced it would repeal the celebrated Roadless Area Conservation Rule, allowing destructive logging in our last wild forests on public lands. There was no real attempt to claim that logging and clearcutting these ancient forests is somehow good for them. Nor was there any claim that intrusions into roadless areas would be limited to thinning of small trees and brush.

We were spared most of the usual rhetoric. No, in this case the message from George W. Bush and his administration was relatively simple: the roadless areas are out there, our friends in the timber industry want them, and we aim to deliver.



When I write about forest issues, I strive to support my arguments with verifiable facts and citations from government documents and scientific literature so that people can check the facts for themselves. To show why we should protect roadless areas, I could cite endless facts and figures about the overwhelming public support, the recreation economy, watersheds, imperiled wildlife species, or the fact less than 5 percent of our original ancient forests remain in this country.

Many reasoned and logical arguments can be made. I’m not going to do that, however, because it seems to me such arguments, in some sense, miss the point. The importance of some things transcends base pragmatism.




I agree with the various economic and ecological reasons that have been articulated to support the protection of our remaining roadless areas, but the truth is that, fundamentally, I want to see these places protected because they are indescribably beautiful and rare and irreplaceable. They are the primeval, cathedral forests that capture our imaginations. They are the wild places in which many people seek peace, solitude, and rejuvenation. They are a reminder that some mystery still exists beyond the banal world of big box stores, strip malls, housing tracts, and roads.

I spend much of my time working in the forest. I have come to know many areas quite well. When roadless areas are logged, when the big trees are hacked down and hauled to the mill, I mourn the loss of these places like the passing of a friend.

It is wrong to allow the logging of our last remaining roadless areas. It is wrong to build more taxpayer-subsidized logging roads through these pristine wilderness areas on our federal public lands, especially when we already have enough logging roads on national forest lands to stretch around the earth several times.

Unfortunately, we have, at this time, an administration that fails to comprehend the distinction between power and legitimacy, the difference between what can be done and what should be done. But I am a big believer in the power of the public, and I believe the people will resist George W. Bush’s mercenary approach to forest policy. I believe people will submit comments on this proposal in large numbers, and the great majority of them will vehemently oppose it.

As John Muir said a century ago, “Since Christ’s time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand leveling, straining tempests and floods, but He cannot save them from fools; only the American people can do that.”

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Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project based in Cedar Ridge, can be reached at chadhanson@nccn.net. For more information on the Roadless Rule, see the American Lands Alliance Web site, http://www.americanlands.org.


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