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Our Alaskan Rainforest

Thought some of you might be interested on what's happening up North
this holiday season. For now the snowmobiles are being kept out of
Yellowstone, but there are plenty of other valuable pieces of American
soil still under attack.


WASHINGTON, Dec. 23  The Bush administration announced on Tuesday that
the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the largest in the country, would
be exempted from a Clinton-era rule, potentially opening up more than
half of the 17 million-acre forest for more development and as many as
50 logging projects.

The decision stems from the settlement of a lawsuit between Alaska and
the federal government over the so-called roadless rule, which
prohibited the building of roads in 58.5 million acres of undeveloped
national forest across the country.

Environmental groups attacked the administration for the settlement in
July, saying it was an underhanded strategy for circumventing the
regulation. Conservation groups said the administration had failed to
defend the roadless designation adequately.

But Ray Massey, a spokesman for the Forest Service in Alaska, said that
agency officials felt there were already enough protections for the
Tongass. "We didn't really need roadless to protect the Tongass," he
said in a telephone interview. "We already have a forest plan in place
to protect the Tongass."

Before putting the roadless designation into effect, the Forest Service
had drawn up plans for the immediate development of 300,000 acres in the
Tongass. Environmental groups say that about 9.6 million acres of the
Tongass could be affected by the dropping of the ban.

The roadless rule was put in place after a two-year process that
included 600 scientific studies and two rounds of public comments that
generated almost two million responses, most of them in favor of the

Since its inception, the rule has been challenged through a host of
legal, legislative and administrative efforts. The conflicts have
highlighted the tensions between environmental protection and economic
development, and between state autonomy and federal oversight.

Environmental groups supported the roadless rule as a way to curb the
development and logging that had already affected half of national
forest land. But Western states and the timber industry said the rule
was unjustified in its sweeping scope  touching about 30 percent of
national forest acreage in the country.

Industry groups and states have made a concerted effort to attack the
rule through lawsuits around the country. In July, a federal district
court judge in Wyoming suspended the rule nationwide. Environmental
groups are appealing the case to the United States Court of Appeals for
the 10th Circuit, in Denver.

Before that, a federal court in Idaho originally threw out the roadless
rule, but that decision was overturned last December by the United
States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.

The Tongass National Forest, with 16.8 million acres, has been
particularly contentious because of its environmental symbolism as the
only temperate rain forest on the continent.

"This is the rarest forest type on earth and it needs to be protected,"
said Jeremy Paster, a forest campaign organizer for Greenpeace.

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