The campaign to protect unroaded forests gets torn apart by a Wyoming judge in 'half-assed retirement'

  • Cindy Wehling photo illustration; Istock photos
  • The watershed of Oregon's Rogue River includes roadless areas protected by Clinton's rule.

    Dang Ngo/Zuma Press
  • Wyoming federal judge Clarence Brimmer Jr. found that Clinton's rule was illegally rigged -- infuriating environmentalists.

    Todd Newcomer
  • The campaign persuaded more than a million people to send boilerplate comments to the Clinton administration on postcards like the one at left and mass e-mails and faxes. More than 80,000 people signed petitions circulated by Aveda, a company that makes eco-friendly beauty products and works with salons nationwide. This year, the campaign is urging the Obama administration to back Clinton's rule, by sending more mass e-mails and running ads during last spring's NCAA basketball tournament calling for a "Time Out!" on activities in roadless areas.

  • Ken Rait, a skilled politico based in Oregon, ran Pew Charitable Trust's Heritage Forests Campaign from 1997 until the Clinton roadless rule was finalized in 2001. Now he's campaigns director for another Pew-funded group, the Campaign for America's Wilderness.

  • George T. Frampton Jr. ran The Wilderness Society from 1986 to 1993, then pushed for the roadless rule within the Clinton White House as head of the Council on Environmental Quality. He's now a corporate lawyer working on clean energy issues.

  • Mike Dombeck was the U.S. Forest Service Chief from 1997 to 2001, overseeing the roadless rule process. He's now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He's also been a National Wildlife Federation board member.


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Campaign leaders and top Clintonites -- most often the CEQ's Frampton -- met in D.C. at least six times during 1999 and 2000 to discuss making the rule, according to federal records. They considered "talking points," ads the campaign planned to run, and the need for a "presidential event and memo" to kick off the Forest Service process.

"The outstanding issue/interest is having POTUS (President of the U.S.) roll out announcement regarding preservation of forest lands and leaving that as one of his lasting legacies ..." said an e-mail summing up an August 1999 meeting.

The campaigners sent a fax to Frampton before the August meeting, suggesting the wording for Clinton's announcement, and then brought those suggestions -- labeled "a draft" -- to the meeting. Written by three Wilderness Society leaders, the draft opens with, "At the beginning of this century, President Theodore Roosevelt ..." Clinton posed on a Virginia mountain to deliver his roadless speech and issued his memo two months after that meeting. The speech and memo, ordering the Forest Service to develop a rule, sounded similar to the environmentalists' draft and shared the same goal. Clinton's first words were: "At the start of this century, President Theodore Roosevelt ..."

The e-mail summing up the August meeting also noted that the White House was informed that "the Campaign has placed Green Corps organizers" in a handful of key states "to keep western dems copacetic or neutral and republicans split ..." The Clintonites also asked the campaigners to drum up public comments, according to Turner.

The campaigners provided detailed legal research to the Clintonites about how to make the rule tough and defensible. Two top lawyers weighed in: Niel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Charles Wilkinson, a University of Colorado law professor who was then on The Wilderness Society's board of directors.

The Clintonites sought input from dozens of other interest groups, ranging from off-road drivers to the Western States Sheriffs' Association. But judging by the final outcome, the enviros' goals outweighed all the other input; either that, or the enviros' goals coincided more exactly with the Clintonites' to begin with.

The Forest Service's Content Analysis Enterprise Team in Salt Lake City, which evaluated all the comments for the EIS process, found that many people complained that the process was rushed so it could be completed before the end of Clinton's term. Indeed, the Clintonites used the words "emergency" and "crisis team" in their internal communications. The first comment period lasted 60 days, and the other comment period -- when people could read and react to the 796-page draft environmental impact statement -- was 69 days. That's about average for a big EIS, but this one was unprecedented in scale, covering about one-third of the acres in all the national forests. Many people requested that the comment periods be extended; the Forest Service refused. The first round of hearings was especially chaotic -- meetings were held without much advance notice, or in locations that were changed at the last second. Often there was a shortage of good maps or clear information about forest areas that might be affected.

Some of the most damning comments came from within the Forest Service. Five hundred staffers signed a letter praising the idea early on, but as the process unfolded, the Forest Service Council, a kind of union representing 14,000 staffers (half the agency's total), sent a formal letter in March 2000 trashing every aspect of it. Resistance from the ranks, faced with such a bold change, is not surprising. But the letter, written by Art Johnston, the group's legislative committee chair, goes beyond merely asking that the roadless rule be called off. Johnston said staffers opposed such "centralized planning ... the Roadless Area Initiative is a 'one plan fits all' prescription and lumps 54 million acres together that are obviously quite different, both in physical aspects and in social/cultural dimensions. ... This initiative has totally bypassed scientific analysis. ..."

Moreover, "the Roadless Area Initiative ... has greatly magnified the conflict between the urban environmental community and other National Forest users," the Forest Service Council went on. "On one side is the Administration and every environmental organization; on the other, every rural state and its governor, every county board, hunters, ORVers, libertarians, and logging and mining associations. ... The decisions that lead to this initiative were not open and transparent. Only one group of Forest users was consulted, and the other side was clearly and intentionally locked out of the process. There was no effort by the Administration to gather consensus or agreement. ... This is an example of politics at its worst. ... We also live in rural communities (and) the level of distrust toward the Forest Service and its employees has reached an unprecedented level."

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