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GOP's rule roll back

WASHINGTON/(AP) -- Western Republicans are urging President Bush to revise the Clinton administration's ban on road-building in a third of the national forest lands so decisions are made on a forest-by-forest basis.

The Bush administration has been reviewing the rule, which is supposed to take effect May 12. The results of that review, and likely a decision about whether to set aside the rules, could come next week, when the Justice Department will file a brief in a lawsuit by the state of Idaho challenging Clinton's action.

The rule prohibited road-building on 58.5 million acres of national forest land, except in rare circumstances such as to protect an endangered species.

"Adequate protection for roadless areas is a priority for this administration. We have not finalized any decisions regarding that particular rule," said Kevin Herglotz, spokesman for the Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service.

Western Republicans consider the policy, announced by President Clinton on Jan. 5, to be a sweeping mandate from Washington, and that proper administrative procedures were not followed.

Under an expected revision from the Bush administration, they want states to have more participation in land management decisions because they best know the land.

"What I would hope they would do is go back to a forest-by-forest plan basis so that we can look at these roadless areas (and) determine whether they ought to be wildernesses or not," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Environmentalists have been critical of moves by the Bush administration to delay the rule's implementation and say the Justice Department has not adequately defended it in the Idaho case.

"It is a very balanced policy and anything that would destroy that balance is a rollback," said Jane Danowitz, director of the Heritage Forest Campaign. "They are looking for any way that they can to undermine it."

Any changes to the rule would require the Bush administration to modify the policy through a formal rule-making process, though it may not have to go back to the beginning of the sometimes lengthy effort, said Doug Crandall, majority staff director for the House Resources forests subcommittee.

Craig, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources forests and public land management subcommittee, held a hearing Thursday on the energy reserves within roadless areas that would be inaccessible if the rule were to take effect in its current form.

The roadless rule would allow roads to be built to access current mineral lease boundaries, but prohibit roads for new leases or to expand existing ones.

The petroleum industry said it needs access to federal lands to meet demands as the nation faces high power prices and an energy crunch in the West.

"This industry is very concerned that the roadless rule has withdrawn 60 million acres," said Edmund Segner, president of EOG Resources, one of the country's largest independent producers of oil and natural gas. "We need to balance energy needs with environmental needs."

Some environmentalists and Democrats say the rule, and its extensive public comment, strikes that balance in its current form.

"This seems like a guise to overturn the rule," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said.

(c) 2001 Associated Press

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