Citizen Petition Drive Launched to Reinstate Forest Protections
Aims to Stop Federal Plans Favoring Logging, Deforestation
Seventy-five environmental groups around the country announced today that they will mount a petition campaign to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule overturned by the Bush administration in one of its most controversial environmental decisions.
The announcement comes as pressure mounts on the federal government to reinstate the protections that limited logging, mining and other destructive activities on nearly 60 million acres of wild national forests.
The Bush administration change was announced in May 2005, when it reversed its own pledge to uphold the 2001 rule. Opponents of the Bush policy say the change is sparking deforestation in an ever-shrinking portion of national forests that remain intact and wild. Budget hawks have also complained that road-building and maintenance costs increase the deficit with no benefit to taxpayers.
The petitions will be made under the Administrative Procedures Act, which allows citizens to request the government issue, amend or revoke federal rules. Organizers of the drive say the APA's formal petition process will require the Forest Service to respond to public outcry for forest protections, and will likely be the largest ever undertaken in the history of the APA. The service ignored the 1.7 million who opposed the Bush rule during the current policy's comment period last year, they say.
"Far from settling this issue, the Forest Service's new policy has caused confusion, ambivalence and anger. With the exception of the logging industry, virtually no one is satisfied" said Robert Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "This petition drive will give millions of Americans who have been shut out the of Administration's new process an opportunity to get engaged in saving their last wild places."
In recent months, three state attorneys general and a governor from three western states -- California, New Mexico and Oregon -- filed the first legal challenge to the administration's repeal of protections. A second legal challenge was filed last week on behalf of 20 conservation groups. In July, 145 members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to codify the roadless rule into federal law. Preparations are also underway for introduction of a Senate bill.
Among the first citizens who have lined up to file a petition is Rebecca Giddens, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist kayaker. "National Forests are an important part of my lifestyle and I'm concerned our pristine forests and the unique recreational opportunities they provide are at risk," said Giddens, who trained for the 2004 Summer Games on California's famed Kern River, which runs through thousands of acres of roadless areas on the Sequoia National Forest.
National groups supporting the petition include American Lands Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Combined, they will draw on a base of millions of members. Chapters in all fifty states representing the groups will mobilize their members, civic leaders and the general public via Internet and traditional grassroots methods to submit petitions.