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Road-building ban restored for national forests

Plan would save 65,000 acres in Georgia

Trees in the Chattahoochee National Forest are a little safer from chain saws this week after a federal judge in California reinstated a Clinton-era initiative to place 49 million acres of national forests off-limits to logging and road-building.

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If allowed to stand, the ruling means about 65,000 acres of Georgia forests would remain virtually untouched, immune from U.S. Forest Service plans to clear areas for wildlife habitats, conduct controlled burns or build new roads.

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Wayne Jenkins, executive director of Georgia Forestwatch, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Ellijay, considers the court ruling an unqualified victory.

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"The Chattahoochee has become a largely recreational forest and this ruling preserves that," he says.

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Known as the "roadless rule," the federal protections were adopted by Bill Clinton in 2001 following three years of public hearings. But, in one of his first official actions as president, George W. Bush ordered the rule thrown out.

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Last week, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth LaPorte in San Francisco reversed Bush's order, saying the administration had not done the necessary environmental analysis to justify scrapping the roadless rule.

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Although the designated roadless sections of the Chattahoochee have been in legal limbo for the past five years, they weren't in immediate peril, Jenkins says. Commercial logging in the national forest was effectively halted in 1996 by a Sierra Club lawsuit that successfully argued that the Forest Service hadn't followed its own rules for estimating the impact logging would have on wildlife.

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In recent years, the Forest Service in Georgia has shifted its focus from logging to "forest management," a euphemism that wary environmentalists such as Jenkins claim allows tree-clearing and road-building in remote sections of the forest.

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"Once you chop up these areas with roads, they can no longer qualify to be designated as wilderness, which leaves them open to logging, burning and more roads," he says. "This is our last opportunity to have large tracts with a wilderness character."



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