There are areas in the United States that have no roads, and that’s for a reason. About 58 million acres have been set aside as nature reserves that specifically ban logging, mining or oil and gas development within their boundaries. The Bush administration’s recent attempt to overturn such rules and allow logging in some of the nation’s most pristine nature reserves apparently has backfired. After a public outcry, the administration is now reconsidering, and rightly so.
The Bush administration had suggested overturning the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, issued by President Bill Clinton as an executive order before leaving office in 2001. In Florida, areas affected by the rule measure 50,000 acres, the largest located north-east of Ocala and near Apalachicola in the Panhandle. Areas in other states include 6 million acres in Montana and close to 15 million acres in Alaska, which have been rated as some of the most pristine areas in the nation.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey announced an extension of the timeframe in which the public can comment on the proposed changes last week. The original deadline has already passed, but now complaints can be filed until Nov. 15. Rey called this a “fairly straightforward” way of dealing with the overwhelming complaints and stated, “It’s unrelated to the elections.”
It is doubtful that the extension is indeed unrelated to the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 2. Rather, the administration appears to either have underestimated the public outrage that would result or had hoped to slip the issue in under the radar.
Protected areas also include 4.4 million acres in Colorado and 2 million acres in Oregon and Washington state, as well as 1.6 million acres in New Mexico, according to the Associated Press. All of which are considered battleground states in the presidential election. The tie between the postponed deadline and the election is obvious.
Democratic candidate for the presidency, Sen. John Kerry, already said he would retain the measures of protection. It is important though, that the public takes this issue seriously in order to prevent the oil and logging lobbies from gaining access to the last true wildernesses that exist in our country, no matter who wins the election.
Until Nov. 15., complaints can be filed at http://roadless.fs.fed.us/ .