Bush gives timber industry CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY present

Worn out from its steady attack on the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Bush administration has asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to take over for a while. And, once again, the targets are some of the few remaining untouched parts of the 749,000-acre North Georgia forest.

In Georgia, about 64,800 acres, including Kelly Ridge and Mountaintown, have been deemed so ecologically sensitive that roads are forbidden within them. But that could change, thanks to a proposed rule announced July 12 by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

The proposal would modify what's called the Roadless Rule. Under the change, the road protections would no longer be automatic. Instead, governors would have to request the stronger protection. That means Perdue would be allowed to decide whether loggers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts could have access to these sections of the forest.

Nationwide, 58.5 million acres will be affected.

So far, the governor's office is quiet. Perdue's spokesman says the governor is taking his time and consulting with the Department of Natural Resources. His decision is anxiously awaited by environmentalists, timber company executives, and ATV drivers, all of whom are crossing their fingers that the governor comes down on their side.

"Hunters, hikers, boaters, anglers and families all seek the recreation and solitude that places like Kelly Ridge, Mountaintown and other public lands provide," says the Sierra Club's Kate Smolski. "All Americans, not solely the timber industry, should be able to enjoy these special places."

This is the latest blow to the North Georgia forest. In January, the U.S. Forest Service refused to extend its highest level of protections to two areas of the Chattahoochee — Kelly Ridge and Mountaintown — despite a massive outpouring of public comment in favor of the protections. At the same time, the Forest Service declared 461,000 acres "suitable" for logging and off-road vehicles.

For what it's worth, the Forest Service is accepting public comment on the change to the Roadless Rule until late September. E-mail comments to statepetitionroadless@fs.fed.gov.

-- Michael Wall

The Blotter
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