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Clinton Protects 60 Million Acres of U.S. Forest

President Clinton announced Friday a ban on logging and road building in a third of America’s national forests—a 58.5-million-acre area that is larger than all the nation’s national parks combined.


Only stumps and waste wood remain in the wake of a clearcut in Washington state.
Photograph by Kevin Schafer/Corbis

Included in the announcement are huge areas of America’s largest temperate rain forest, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Clinton’s move is seen as the culmination of an aggressive environmental agenda which he made a hallmark of his presidency. The latest announcement is opposed bitterly by Western lawmakers and the timber and energy industries.

But the initiative has also been greeted with relief and enthusiasm by environmental groups who lobbied hard for greater protection of America’s dwindling forests.

Logging truck descends national forest road in the Pacific Northwest.
Photograph by James P. Blair/NGS
“Today’s action will protect water quality and biodiversity, and ensure that much of America’s last, best wildland is preserved for future generations,” the White House said in a statement announcing the initiative. “With today’s action, the Clinton Administration has protected more land in the continental United States than any administration since Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Fatally Flawed”

U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the initiative was “fatally flawed and likely will be overturned by the courts.”

“Nobody has done this much environmental and economic damage going out the door since Saddam Hussein torched Kuwait’s oil fields,” Murkowski said.

The senator cited media reports that the lands that have been put off limits by Clinton could hold as much as 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—“a full year’s supply for our entire nation.”

Murkowski said the roadless rule will be subject to immediate court challenge by a wide range of interests—including a number of Western governors. In December Murkowski and other Republican lawmakers gave notice that they intended to exercise congressional authority to consider overturning a roadless rule, sending it back to the Forest Service “to start over and do it right.”

Alaskan lawmakers are opposed to a roadless proposal in the Tongass because of the most recent land management plan that resulted in between 80 and 90 percent of the national forest being off limits to logging.

Clinton Leaves “Wonderful Legacy”

“This is a wonderful cap to President Clinton’s environmental legacy,” said Alan Metrick, communications director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 450,000-member interest group based in New York that lobbied hard for Clinton’s decision.

“In doing this, President Clinton has preserved for all our future generations a most precious and irreplaceable part of our nation’s heritage,” Metrick said.

“The economic impact of the President’s move is neglible, but its cultural impact on the positive side is immeasurable. Once this land is gone it is gone and there is no way to bring it back; there are some discreet parts of this country that should be left off-limits to exploitation.”

In the United States, get full coverage of this story on tonight’s cable television broadcast of the National Geographic Today news show at 7 p.m. ET.

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Roadless Areas

  • According to the White House, the national forests are some of the largest pristine wildlands remaining in the United States.

    “They provide an extraordinary array of irreplaceable benefits. They are a major source of clean drinking water for millions of Americans in communities across the country, and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including more than 200 plant and animal species protected or proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act,” says the White House in a statement.

    Roadless areas in the national forests provide opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking, off-road vehicle use on designated trails, and hiking.

    President Clinton’s action will preserve these benefits on 58.5 million acres of national forestland in 38 states, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, America’s largest temperate rain forest.

    The new rule bars road building and logging “with carefully crafted exemptions to protect public safety and forest health while ensuring continued public access for recreation.”

    In other areas of the national forests, the Forest Service will continue to work with local communities and the timber industry “to ensure a reliable, sustainable supply of commercial timber.”

    The new rule includes provisions to help ease potential economic impacts on local communities, preserve or enhance forest values, and guard against the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

    Roadless Protection Facts:

    Number of Acres Affected: 58.5 million
    Percent of US Landbase: 2 percent
    Percent of Forest Service Landbase: 31%
    Number of Public Meetings Held: 600+
    Number of Responses Received: 1.6+ million

    Source: U.S. Forest Service