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Revival of the roadless battle

Revival of the roadless battle

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We applaud last week’s court decision reinstating the ‘‘roadless rule’’ for national forest lands, and not only because it restores needed protections for some of this country’s last, best wilderness.

The ruling is also a plain rebuke of the Bush administration’s dishonest approach to remaking law it doesn’t like.

In his first presidential campaign, George W. Bush lambasted the Clinton administration’s efforts to prohibit most new road building — therefore, logging and mining — in the tiny part of national forests that had remained road-free.

On his first day in office, Bush shelved the rule. A wrongheaded move, in our view, but at least it was forthright, unlike what followed.

Attorney General John Ashcroft pledged in his confirmation hearings to defend the law against court challenges; he did not.

Agriculture Department officials said their revisions would be limited to fine-tuning, mostly in regard to areas that had acquired roads after being listed for protection.

Instead, they decreed, via notice in the Federal Register, that they would turn the national policy upside down and revert to forest-by-forest decision-making, inviting governors to submit wish lists.

But, as a federal judge in California noted last week, this repeal was undertaken without the analysis clearly required by the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Indeed, she found that the administration had failed to offer any evidence to support its action.

And so the Clinton-era rule is restored — just as governors in Idaho and other Western states finalize their development-minded petitions to the Forest Service.

Which underlines the latest dishonesty from the administration — an assertion that the governors seek only to tweak the Clinton-era plans. Idaho would reduce protected acreage from 9.3 million acres to 1.7 million.

The new ruling can be appealed, but chances of success seem slim. Which leaves the administration the option of undertaking an actual rewrite, following the law — a process that took the Clinton administration roughly two years and could take this one more time than it has left.

— Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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