ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Jan. 6 —   Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles said on Friday the state will sue to prevent President Bill Clinton’s newly announced roadless-area conservation policy from applying to the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.



       KNOWLES SAID in a statement that the new policy, which limits development in large roadless areas of national forests, should not take effect in the two Alaska forests because other management plans had already been approved.
       “Alaskans are tired of being double-crossed by the federal government with false promises of public involvement that are subsequently overturned by executive policy actions from Washington,” Knowles said.
       In the largest change in land status in U.S. history, Clinton on Friday approved a new regulation that eventually puts nearly 60 million acres of U.S. forest off limits to road construction, logging and oil drilling. Some 58.5 million acres in 38 states, nearly one-third of all national forests, are covered. Included immediately in the road ban are federal lands like Pagoda Peak in Colorado, the American Rivers’ North Fork in California, and the South Quinault Ridge in Washington state. In 2004, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest will be added to the list.
       “I am directing my attorney general to file suit against this illegal and ill-advised executive fiat to preserve the integrity of the planning process,” he said.
       Knowles said the 17 million-acre Tongass, the largest U.S. national forest, should be exempted from the policy because it was the subject of an exhaustive management review that did not recommend a ban on new roads.
       The Tongass management plan was completed in 1999 after 10 years of study and public comment, and Knowles said he supported that process.
       The Tongass, encompassing rain-soaked islands, coastline, mountains and glaciers in southeast Alaska, has long been the subject of intense debate. The timber industry values the large spruce, hemlock and cedar trees in the rain forest, while environmentalists prize the region’s biological diversity.
       Debate has been much less heated over the 6 million acre Chugach in southcentral Alaska, the second largest U.S. forest but a site of little logging. Knowles said it, too, should be exempted from the roadless policy because its latest management plan was now being written.
       “There’s a tremendous amount of support for what the governor’s doing,” said Jack Phelps, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, a timber-industry group based in Ketchikan.
       If the roadless policy goes into effect, Phelps said, the amount of timber available to the industry after five to seven years would be 50 million board feet a year from the Tongass, well below the industry’s needs of at least 200 million board feet a year to keep its mills running.
       It was a view in sharp contrast to that of Alaska’s environmentalists. Matthew Davidson, a campaigner for the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said logging roads in the Tongass have already caused a lot of environmental damage, as well as financial loss to the U.S. Forest Service.
       “This is the Forest Service recognizing that it has a lot of trouble managing the roads it already has,” Davidson said.
       He disputed Knowles’ assertion that the roadless plan was imposed without sufficient public comment, pointing to the public support seen at 13 public hearings held in Alaska over the proposal.
MAP: National Forests
       Bush officials on Friday took note of the proposal, which Clinton first announced more than a year ago, but only in the briefest sense.
       “It is the president’s prerogative to do as he sees fit,” Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer said without specifically mentioning the road ban. “We will not comment on some of these last-minute executive orders that he is pursuing.”
       Still, he added: “We will review each and every one of them. We are taking note of them.”
       Bush Interior Department nominee Gail Norton, a Denver lawyer, was quick to criticize the rule: “The West was concerned about those decisions, in large part, because there was no consultation with the people whose lives were most affected by land withdrawals by the Clinton administration.”
       Under the new regulation, road construction and repairs and timber harvest would be banned in undeveloped areas, unless necessary for environmental reasons or to reduce the risk of wildfires. Commercial timber contracts already in the government pipeline will be allowed to go through. In some cases that could amount to continued logging for another six to seven years at today’s harvesting rates.
       Environmental groups had eagerly awaited the final rule. “This is a significant victory,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, spokeswoman for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We are glad to see the Clinton administration has responded to the overwhelming public mandate in protecting our national forests.”
       Environmentalists, like the Clinton administration, argue that the logging industry won’t be hit hard by the rule since the federal lands covered by the ban account for only a small percentage of all timber taken from government-owned land.
       That is not a view generally shared by incoming Bush officials. At least three paths exist for opponents to block or at least sidetrack the rule:
* Bush could instruct the U.S. Forest Service to ignore or delay implementation. During the campaign, he vowed to review Clinton administration land policies.
* Court battles are certain, given what logging and mining interests have said and the billions of dollars in natural resources locked up by the road ban.
* Congress might use a never-invoked 1996 law that allows lawmakers to rescind a regulation within 60 days.
       Any path Bush might choose would be tortuous. Attempts to rescind the rule would require the Forest Service to repeat the lengthy public review process needed before Friday’s announcement. Should he try to ignore it, environmentalists would sue. Court battles will include inevitable appeals, and Democratic lawmakers have vowed to fight to protect the rule in Congress.
       Still, critics argue that Clinton is simply wants this as part of his legacy — while ignoring its impact. They insist it will increase wildfire risks, cost jobs, hurt local economies, and block oil and natural gas drilling. Energy companies have already been complaining that they are blocked on too many federal lands in the western United States.
       Utah Republican Rep. James Hansen, who took over as head of the House Resources Committee in the new Congress, wrote a letter of appeal to Bush last week calling some of Clinton’s environmental polices “misguided” and “absurd.”
        Bush allies such as Hansen have raised fears of environmental groups that the White House will sound a sharp retreat on land-preservation policies.
       “It seems like it’s going to be open season on the environment,” said Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Helm.
       The group is worried Bush may issue a moratorium on implementing several long-pending environmental rules the Clinton administration has hurried to finalize in recent weeks. In addition to the forest road ban, these include stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances and a new EPA rule to force a 95 percent cut in the amount of sulfur emissions in diesel fuel, an action likely to be challenged in court.
       Though green groups generally support Bush’s nomination of Christine Todd Whitman, a New Jersey Republican, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, they are readying to fight Bush’s appointments of Norton as interior secretary and former Michigan senator Spencer Abraham as energy secretary.
       Norton and Abraham have helped lead efforts to allow drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a controversial idea that is the centerpiece of Bush’s national energy policy.
       Abraham also co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to abolish the Energy Department. Norton worked as a lawyer at the Interior Department in the mid-1980s when it was headed by then-controversial Interior secretary James Watt.

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