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Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation today condemned the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) proposal for placing 54 million acres of land into de-facto Wilderness status under the guise of the "Roadless Areas Initiative." The proposal would effectively ban most human activity in these areas. Since the plan was first announced by President Clinton on October 30 of last year, the amount of land to be placed off-limits has increased by 35 percent.
CSE Foundation’s criticism is based on four factors. First, the proposal will shift timber harvesting overseas to countries with poor environmental records. This will also hurt U.S. timber workers, who have already been adversely affected by endangered species listings and other regulations.
Second, the proposal places these 53 million acres permanently in the clutches of the USFS, an inefficient and unaccountable bureaucracy. According to the General Accounting Office "Inefficiency and waste throughout USDA’s Forest Service operations and organization have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars...The agency’s financial statements are generally unreliable, and significant assets and expenditures cannot be accurately accounted for."
Third, the creation of de-facto Wilderness areas will deny Americans the use of these lands, both for economic and recreational purposes. Moreover, even without placing these lands off-limits, America already has 104 million acres of officially designated Wilderness lands.
Finally, the proposal is just another example of political considerations driving national environmental policy. The creations of de-facto Wilderness areas bypasses congressional authority, and seems timed to help the campaign of Vice President Al Gore.
Said Patrick Burns, director of Environmental Policy at CSE Foundation, "As President Clinton casts about desperately for a legacy, it seems that our national forests have become the latest target. Imposing new regulations based purely on political calculations does a disservice to both our environment and our economy."