Roadless-less

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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With the pressure from the top, many Forest Service staffers couldn't openly express their opposition. "The Union is very concerned about recent threats of reprisal from the Administration toward Forest Service employees who have voiced their concerns about the Roadless Area initiative," the letter said. "It is totally unacceptable for any employee to be threatened by the Administration with retirement if they voice questions about (it). Nor should they be told that they cannot be talking to certain people. Forest Service employees take pride in their public service and professionalism. Forest Service employees should be treated respectfully -- most certainly by Forest Service leadership. All employees should be encouraged to have diverse opinions and to use all their skills to solve problems and facilitate public relationships and debates."

The Forest Service Council charged that the roadless rule violated both the National Forest Management Act (which calls for individual forest plans to decide such issues) and the Wilderness Act. Another Forest Service group -- more than 160 retired high-level staffers, organized as the FSX Club of Washington, D.C., "having vast experience in wild land planning and prescriptions" -- also said the EIS process was a sham. The chapter head, Robert C. Van Aken, wrote in July 2000 that the whole process "makes a mockery" of decades of forest planning and NEPA analyses. The EIS analyses didn't have "a full display of the economic and social impacts of a massive roadless designation," he wrote, because of "the agency's totally inappropriate reliance on a narrow spectrum of special interest groups in proposing and formulating the rule. The result is an unbalanced proposal with misleading and inadequate analysis that ... violate(s) existing statutes and regulations."

As the environmentalists' mass-mailed comments piled up, Nancy Thornburg, a retired museum archivist and journalist in Markleesville, Calif., a small town surrounded by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, wrote a personal comment letter opposing the rule. She also wrote to California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, saying that "stacks of post cards and gang, boilerplate emails should not carry the same weight as carefully thought out letters with specific comments and suggestions." Thornburg included a copy of an alert on the Sierra Club Web site that urged people to get their "stack of cards" to help generate 250,000 postcard comments before the impending deadline. The Sierra Club also sent its chapters a video explaining the issue and asked the chapter leaders to show the tape to its half-million members to generate postcards.

Thornburg says in a phone interview, "The Forest Service owns 96 percent of my county, which leaves only 4 percent for any kind of economic base, and when I take the time to compose an e-mail or a letter (to the agency) I know the subject. I'm telling (the agency how a proposed action) is going to impact my family and my community. It's fine for the Sierra Club to send postcards to its members and say, 'Just put a stamp on this and mail it in' -- but don't view those evenly with my comment." She used to belong to the Sierra Club, but now she belongs to conservative groups –– although she sees those groups using the same tactics.

Sen. Boxer forwarded Thornburg's 1999 letter about the mass postcards to the Forest Service, and the head of the Roadless Project, Scott Conroy, responded to Thornburg with a letter assuring her that, according to standard EIS procedure, "If the postcards all have the same message, they are treated as a single comment. ... Their content is given equal weight with that of individually composed comments."

Using that method of counting, the Forest Service's analysis team found that in the biggest round of comments, reacting to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, "by far ... most comments ... are negative. ... Both those favoring and those opposed to the rule express concern over statements they consider to be vague, subjective, and open to interpretation." Most comments said the hearings for the DEIS were poorly planned and carried out, "held at extremely inconvenient times and locations and that presentations were not sufficiently clear and accurate ... respondents, on both sides of the issue, said the meetings they attended were dominated by persons and groups representing the other side, and they felt too intimidated to stand up in the face of so much opposition and express their own views. ... The overwhelming sentiment expressed is that (the 69-day DEIS comment period) was woefully inadequate and should be extended."

The analysis team dutifully listed all the positive and negative comments, but reported that one section of the DEIS drew almost universal disdain. "A great many respondents write that the proposed rule will devastate (timber) communities," the team's report, published in October 2000, goes on. "The social analysis of timber workers ... has stimulated an extraordinary amount of comment -- entirely and categorically negative. Respondents see it as biased, condescending, and indicative of a total lack of respect for workers in the timber industry. They see it as one more piece of evidence that the national leadership of the Forest Service has been infiltrated by 'radical environmentalists' who have no regard whatever for the work and value they represent. ... They claim that the conclusion drawn from the analysis -- that individuals and communities can adjust to any circumstances ... shows how little the Forest Service understands their true circumstances. ... The intense level of emotional reaction to this analysis cannot be overemphasized."

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