Clinton announces plans to protect US forests

President Bill Clinton has announced plans to protect more than 40 million acres (16.2 million hectares) of US forests from road construction, logging or other activities that could degrade the forest ecosystems.

Speaking at Reddish Knob Overlook in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest Virginia, Clinton also sketched out his plans for a proposed $1Bn Lands Legacy Initiative, which would guarantee funds for the protection of environmentally sensitive lands across the US.

These areas would include Civil War battlefields, remote stretches of the Lewis and Clark Trail and nearly half a million acres of California’s desert parks and wilderness areas.

Clinton threatened to veto Congress’ forthcoming Interior Bill if Congress fails to fund the Lands Legacy Initiative. “Unfortunately, this Congress seems intent on walking away from this opportunity,” Clinton said. “They’re trying to slash Lands Legacy funding by a full two-thirds this year alone, with no action at all to ensure permanent funding in the years ahead. This is not an isolated case, unfortunately. Once again, the leaders of the Republican majority are polluting our spending bills with special interest riders that would promote overcutting in our forests, allow mining companies to dump more toxic waste on public land, and give a huge windfall to companies producing oil on federal lands. I have vetoed such bills before because they were loaded up with anti-environmental riders. If necessary, I will do so again.”

Clinton was keen to allay fears that the new proposals would damage local timber and paper businesses. “It is very important to point out that we are not trying to turn the national forests into museums,” Clinton said. “Even as we strengthen protections, the majority of our forests will continue to be responsibly managed for sustainable timber production and other activities. This initiative should have almost no effect on timber supply. Only five percent of our country’s timber comes from the national forests. Less than five percent of the national forests’ timber is now being cut in roadless areas. We can easily adjust our federal timber program to replace five percent of five percent, but we can never replace what we might destroy if we don’t protect these 40 million acres.”

Environmentalists greeted the proposals as the start of an effort to ensure permanent protection of US National Forests. Executive Director Carl Pope of the Sierra Club said: “Sierra Club wholeheartedly applauds the Clinton Administration’s vision to protect roadless areas in our National Forests. President Clinton is taking a great step to ensure future generations of Americans can enjoy healthy, productive forests. Our National Forests’ roadless areas provide opportunities for backcountry recreation, clean drinking water, and prime habitat for wildlife like salmon and grizzly bear, but most of those areas are not protected from logging and other destruction. Roadless areas are the remaining remnants of our nation’s forest heritage and deserve permanent protection.”

However, W. Henson Moore, the President and CEO of The American Forest & Paper Association, described the proposals as amounting to plans “to build a wall around much of the National Forest.” He added: “What the President is really doing is implementing a ‘burn and rot’ policy on the National Forests. These roads are used to fight fires and help scientists control disease and insect infestations. They are also used by everyday Americans who want to enjoy themselves in the Forest. The Forest Service already estimates they have 65 million acres of forestland at high risk of catastrophic wildfire and disease and insect infestation, and this new policy is going to make this situation even worse.

“Almost eighty percent of the National Forest System is now off-limits to forest products companies. Taking more the way he has, in an end-run around the Congress, puts an unfair strain on rural economies, an unwise dependence on foreign imports, and an unbearable burden on ecosystems already fighting for survival.”

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