From the December 2000 Idaho Observer:

Feds announce “peopleless” areas plan

While the nation's eyes were on Florida, the Clinton administration stole public access to 144 million acres of “federal” lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new federal rule announced November 9, 2000, intends to limit logging, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, camping and fishing in national forests if federal bureaucrats decide those activities might permanently harm the ecosystem.

“We cannot do things that could put resources at risk,” said Jim Lyons, the Agriculture Department undersecretary who oversees U.S. Forest Service (USFS) activities.

Lyons justified the USFS position by claiming that, “Ecological sustainability is the foundation upon which future management decisions will be made.”

Previous management decisions that have greatly diminshed logging and mining in this country have been made by USFS and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials based upon flawed science. Neither the EPA nor the USFS have been forthcoming with the raw field data upon which they determine public land use policy.

The result has been increasingly restricted public access to public lands though not a shred of scientific evidence has been made publicly available to support claims that human commercial and recreation activity has been harmful to the environment or has endangered animal populations.

Adena Cook, public lands director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, commented that “Ecosystem [and] sustainability” are “buzzwords [that] give us a great deal of concern.”

Cook also indicated that federal enforcement of “peopleless” areas rules could cause her group to mount a legal challenge to what is intended to be exponentially increasing federal control of public lands.

Lyons reportedly stated that he believes logging and other forest uses may continue but his agency will restrict such human activities if forests are not healthy.

Ironically, Jim Rathbun of Libby, Mont., who is a retired USFS director of the Kootenai Forest, has stated that his agency has spent the last decade intentionally managing the forests in such a way as to increase the amount of ground fuel and to provide ideal habitat for infestations of bugs so that it can claim forest ill-health must be remedied by federally prescribed burns.

The “peopleless” areas rules are the first official changes the USFS has made in 18 years with regard to how the agency implements the National Forest Management Act that governs public and private activities in forests.

The new rules will allow bureaucrats who rarely, if ever, set foot in the woods to expend thousands of man hours analyzing computer models at their offices in big cities so they may may dictate where tourists can hike, camp, fish, hunt, snowmobile, use motorcycles and other off-road vehicles or ski. The new rules will also further limit logging and mining operations where forest health is deemed too sensitive for such activity.

The USFS has made it an agency priority to determine exactly who and what can be where and when on at least 2/3 of the nation's public lands within the next three years. The first publicly announced forest management policy change in almost two decades intends to promulgate reasons why it must enforce complete control of over 100 million acres of national forests by 2003.

Mike Leahy, a lawyer for the militant environmentalist group Defenders of Wildlife based in Washington, D.C., applauds the new rule as a step forward. Leahy sees how the new rule will allow the federal government to begin enforcing the importance of “ecological needs” in public forest management by limiting, or eliminating altogether, public access to them. Lyons is reportedly concerned, however, that the new rule may give federal forest managers too much leeway that will allow them to circumvent some environmental protections.

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