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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Clinton's Wilderness Legacy

Air Date: Week of

President Clinton's pledge to protect more than 40 million acres of roadless national forestland throughout the United States is drawing high praise from environmental groups and strong criticism from Congress. Living On Earth’s Jesse Wegman reports.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

CLINTON: From the beautiful stretch of the Alleghenies that we see here, to the old growth canyonlands of Tahoe National Forest, these areas represent some of the last, best unprotected wild lands anywhere in our nation.

CURWOOD: On October thirteenth, President Clinton pledged to protect many of the remaining large roadless areas in national forests, at least 40 million acres of land. While no details are being offered yet by the White House, such a move could effectively ban logging in these areas, and mark a big shift in national forest policy away from an emphasis on logging toward a greater focus on environmental values. Living on Earth's Jesse Wegman reports.

WEGMAN: President Clinton tried to strike a delicate political balance in announcing his new forest policy. He wanted to play up the drama of one of the largest single land preservation moves ever, while downplaying concerns that the action would harm the nation's timber industry.

CLINTON: We can easily adjust our federal timber program, but we can never replace what we might destroy if we don't protect these 40 million acres.


WEGMAN: The President said these forests make up less than one percent of the country's total timber land, and that their value as natural ecosystems outweighs their commercial value. But many members of Congress, particularly western Republicans, are infuriated with the President's action. They say it's a policy issue, which should have been presented to Congress, not done as an administrative move. In addition, says Senator Frank Murkowski, of Alaska, President Clinton doesn't even have the policy part right.

MURKOWSKI: If we're going to manage the forest by emotion, as opposed to sound science, which says that you manage the forest as a renewable resource, you know, clearly they're playing into the hands of preservationists who don't want to manage the forest in a multiple-use concept.

WEGMAN: And Senator Murkowski suggests that the forest plan is blatantly political, part of an effort to shore up Vice President Gore's credibility on the environment. But politically-motivated or not, the announcement has been embraced by environmental groups nationwide. Julie Wormser of the Wilderness Society says it's an historic move.

WORMSER: Basically, he's done something as big as Teddy Roosevelt having established the national forests in the first place. You can no longer say that Clinton does not have an environmental legacy, because this is really enormous.

WEGMAN: Still, some activists are concerned about the fate of the nation's largest national forest, the Tongass, in Alaska. They fear that the Tongass, a rare temperate rainforest, will be used as a bargaining chip to mollify critics of the President's plan. For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman.



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