Political forces aiming to halt the Forest Service’s roadless initiative prodded at the rule on both the state and federal levels last week, stopping short of any radical changes to the Clinton administration’s endorsement to set aside 58.5 million acres of federal land from new roads. But that didn’t keep Gov. Judy Martz from voicing her intent to have Montana join the forces that oppose the plan.
The Bush administration announced on May 4 their intent to let the roadless policy stand, though they promised to continue to seek out ways to change how it will be implemented. A legal brief due on that date was required by federal court judge Edward Lodge, who warned from his Boise bench at the end of April that the Forest Service may have rushed too quickly in implementing the roadless rule.
The Bush decision gave a brief reprieve to defenders of the roadless policy from a consortium of vocal Western governors, congressmen and proponents of extractive industry who want the roadless policy rescinded entirely. The newest member of that club was announced May 7, when Gov. Judy Martz announced her intention to consider joining the state of Idaho, timber giant Boise Cascade, and others as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Forest Service that contends the agency ignored the interest of local economies in developing the roadless initiative.
Meanwhile, the lead plaintiff in the case against the Forest Service, Boise Cascade, hasn’t been joined by any other timber corporations, including Montana’s biggest timber patron, Plum Creek. Company spokesperson Kris Russell can’t guess why Boise Cascade is so eager to have its day in court. “We obviously can’t speak for them,” says Russell. “But we’ve really been working hard on this issue through our associations.”
Those associations are The Montana Wood Products Association and the American Forestry Association, both of which will be whispering in Bush’s ear about ways to kill if not the letter than the intent of the roadless initiative, a move local conservation and hunting groups would remind Montana voters seems more than a little undemocratic.
“You’d have to be living under a rock for the past two years to think there hasn’t been a lot of public input into this process,” says the Montana Environmental Information Center’s Jen Ferenstein, noting that there were 30 public meetings and more than 17,000 comments returned to the Forest Service on the roadless issue. “More taxpayer money for a lawsuit aimed at bypassing a process that took two years for the Forest Service to complete doesn’t seem like a road Montana should be headed down right now.”