|By Bob Weaver|
The Bush administration, in one of its biggest decisions on environmental issues so far, moved last Thursday to open up nearly a third of all remote national forest lands to road building, which is then linked to developing logging, mining and drilling.
Supporters of the Bush plan say it is misunderstood, a radical interpretation by environmentalists.
Supporters have been pushing the "Healthy Forests" initative, which has some sound environmental controls, but still contains language which allows development of the nation's most pristine areas.
In West Virginia, there are 202,000 acres of road-less areas in the Monongahela National Forest which will be affected, along with other protected areas.
The administration is emphasizing the change will help recreational opportunities.
The rules refer to the proposal as "habitat restoration," which prompted a Nature Conservancy official to say "That's like the government naming an ICBM a peacemeaker," which has been done.
About 34 million acres of pristine woodlands in US could be opened to road construction.
The "road rule" is the first step in opening the previously protected forests for further development.
There is an uncertain block, which governor's of states can exercise.
Gov. Joe Manchin has 18 months to submit petitions to the U.S. Forest Service, challenging either the old plan to stop development, or calling for new plans to allow it.
The Forest Service could still have the final say.
Conservation groups say the new rules would let the administration rewrite the forest management plans to lift restrictions against development on most of the forested land.
"Yesterday, nearly 60 million acres of national forests were protected and today as a result of deliberate action by the Bush administration, they are not," said Robert Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.
"The Bush administration plan is a 'leave no tree behind' policy that paves the way for increased logging, drilling and mining in some of our last wild areas," said Vandermark.
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the state chapters of the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society has launched a campaign to add 15 new wilderness areas encompassing 143,000 acres to the Monongahela National Forest, the largest national forest in the state.
West Virginia contains 1.03 million acres of national forest land — 909,000 in the Monongahela National Forest and 123,000 in the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson national forests near the Virginia border.
There is a just completed, unprecedented, four-year, $24
million, U.N.-backed study involving 1,360 scientists from 95 nations who pored over thousands of satellite images and countless
scientific reports and statistics.
Their shattering summary - we have used up 60 percent of the world's grasslands, forests, farmland, rivers and lakes.
Sustaining life on Earth is not a corporate or government priority.
The glass is about
three-fifths empty and draining fast.
Darkness Falling - Monongahela National Forest