RAY SUAREZ: Nearly one-third of all national forestland, lands like these, may soon be opened up to road building and logging, mining and other development. The Bush administration proposal announced yesterday would scuttle a Clinton-era rule that left those 60 million acres off-limits. President Clinton put it in place just before leaving office in January 2001.
The rule has been challenged in court six times since then. Most of the affected land is located in western and northwestern states like Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, California, Oregon and Alaska. The new proposal lets state governors decide if they want to petition the federal government to keep certain areas road-free or allow road construction and the potential logging that comes with it. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said the changes would allow decisions to be made at the local level.
AGRICULTURE SECRETARY ANN VENEMAN: Today, we are announcing a new proposed roadless rule that establishes a process for governors to work with the Forest Service to develop locally supported rules for conserving roadless areas in their states.
RAY SUAREZ: Veneman made the announcement in Idaho, which has more so-called roadless land than any of the 48 lower states.
IDAHO RESIDENT: We cannot let the extremists dictate what we're going to do in our communities.
RAY SUAREZ: Idaho residents were among the most vocal in their opposition to the Clinton rule. Communities across the state depend on logging for jobs and tax revenue. Environmentalists were quick to disparage the new plan, citing threats to pristine forest land and critical wildlife habitats. The plan will be published in the Federal Register this week and open to general public comment for 60 days. And governors also have 18 months to designate which forests they want to keep closed to development.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the proposal and the debate over it, we turn to the governors of two states with a large stake in the outcome: Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Well, the secretary of agriculture, Governor Kempthorne, went to your state to announce the new rule. Does this answer the complaints that you had had on the Clinton era ruling?
GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: Ray, I'd like to, if I can, clarify this whole issue. I don't believe by any stretch of the imagination what President Bush has done is now open up these forests to development and construction activities. It's the federal courts that rule that the Clinton roadless policy was flawed and they took it off the books. So because of that, there currently is no roadless policy.
To the credit of President Bush, he has now said that we will have a process. But significantly we are going to allow for partnership with the states. That's something that I was a governor and brought the first lawsuit against the previous Clinton administration proposal because the states were not allowed to participate in a meaningful fashion. Now we can.
RAY SUAREZ: So you like the new ruling and the scheme that it sets out for managing the federal forests?
GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: I do. I support the president in what he is trying to do. Ray, I'm going to reiterate. The president could simply say, based on what the federal court judges have done, there is no roadless policy and therefore there will not be. He has not taken that course of action. He said there will be a roadless policy but we're going to let the states be the partners.
RAY SUAREZ: Governor Kulongoski, what do you make of the ruling and do you see it the same way as Governor Kempthorne does -- in its effect?
GOV. TED KULONGOSKI: Well, hello, Dirk. No, I don't. A couple things, one, and I know Dirk knows this, is that the decisions that the district courts, the federal district courts have been appealed into the circuit courts and there is no final decision on those yet. Let me suggest something, though, that I think this issue is much broader than it is being described. And by that, I mean, I think that when the Organic Act that actually established the Forest Service was actually put together in the late 1890s, it vested in the secretary of agriculture the responsibility to protect and regulate forest lands -- federal forest lands. And the reason for that was it was understood that the secretary was acting as trustee for all of the citizens of this country, not just one state, not just one governor. The forest lands of this state are owned by all of us.
That principle was enunciated further in 1960 when we adopted, Congress adopted the multiple use concept, in 1976 when they adopted the National Forest Management Act; and even recently when we adopted the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, it was understood that the secretary of agriculture had the responsibility and the authority to regulate and protect forest lands. Now the number of this is there are about 191 million acres that are actually administered by the secretary of agriculture through the Forest Service. About 58 million of those acres are actually designated as roadless. How that affects Oregon -- we have about 16 million federal forest acre lands here in Oregon and about 2 million of those are actually in the roadless area.
I think actually what this is is an abdication of the responsibility of the secretary of agriculture to regulate and protect the federal forest lands. They are just basically putting a political issue in to the governors who do not have the authority or the responsibility to manage those federal forest lands. So I think this is just a way for the federal Forest Service and secretary of agriculture, and even the congressional delegation to actually circumvent what I think is their responsibility, is to manage these lands for all of us.
RAY SUAREZ: Governor Kempthorne, does this in effect make local control over federal forests a reality?
GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: No, and first may I say I have the utmost respect for Ted Kulongoski. I believe Governor Kulongoski is a dear friend.
But Secretary Veneman in her statements yesterday, she affirmed that she is going to retain her authority as secretary of agriculture. She will carry out her responsibility as will chief of the Forest Service, Dale Bosworth. But during the Clinton administration, I think that Governor Kulongoski would be as frustrated as I was if you went to the federal government and said, all right, you're going to now do this, this large roadless policy: Would you please just give me the maps that show me what areas of Idaho are going to be affected by this? What state lands, what state endowment lands were the beneficiaries of those state endowment lands, or the children of Idaho through the school system, how they will be impacted -- and we were told, we don't know. Well, would you give us the maps? No, we won't give you the maps. That is not a meaningful process.
The president and the secretary of agriculture are now giving us a meaningful process. I also believe Oregon is no different than Idaho -- they have elected the governor of Oregon; I think they have demonstrated their faith in him that he will have a meaningful process and that any governor who ultimately decides to petition, it means that we have done a due diligence; we've had the public process and by simply giving that petition to the secretary of agriculture, the administration, that doesn't mean it is a done deal.
I would also just say, I would be proud to show you, and if we had time, Ray, I would love to -- the Little Salmon River where there are 67 miles of prime habitat for the salmon. The state of Idaho protected that stretch. We didn't have to. The federal government had didn't have to tell us that they knew better and Idaho should do this. We did it in Idaho because we think it is the right thing to do. Idahoans will continue to what we think is the right thing to do and we can do so with the lands that we happen to also think are some of the greatest assets in this state.
RAY SUAREZ: And, Governor Kempthorne, you disagree with your fellow governor, that long arm of politics is involved in this, that this might be an issue that would bring around western state support in an election year?
GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: Yeah, I tell you, the federal judges, they made the determination. In fact, there have been something like nine lawsuits filed. The judge in Wyoming that ruled and really has put to rest this whole question of the roadless policy by the Clinton administration, when you consider that you have to have now the public comment period once they publish the rule, that it would be 18 months before any governor could submit, you are going to be at least two to three years from today, Ray, before you would see any of these petitions coming forward. Now tell me that has been putting it into the political climate. It is not.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Governor Kulongoski, there you are, presiding over the state - you've mentioned the millions of acres of forest land you've got in Oregon. How does your life change from now on? How does your role in being a steward for forests in your state change?
GOV. TED KULONGOSKI: Well, I think that's just the point. I think that the responsibility for managing the federal forest lands remains in the hands of the secretary of agriculture and the Forest Service. I don't understand this process, and let me give you a couple of points. First of all, I actually share with Governor Kempthorne his frustration in dealing with the federal Forest Service on the federal lands that are in our respective states. I find it just as difficult to get information and to be able to understand exactly what they're doing.
Secondly, I actually want the states to have more of a role. And he calls it a partnership. Now if you are talking about amending the Organic Act in Congress to give us more of an effective management responsibility of these lands, I'm willing to sit down and talk to you, but what you tried to do with forest, sound forest management practices, is to bring certainty and stability to the process.
I would suggest to you that there is nothing in this proposal that is being put forward that will make this certain or stable for any state. As an example, I have no idea that if in fact I petition to keep it in the roadless area, whether in fact the next governor who may be here in two years then re-petitions and says I don't want it in roadless areas because the general rule is governors cannot bind each other and in fact, the next governor has the responsibility and the right to be able to make these decisions.
I think you have to understand they are doing this by administrative rule. It cannot be done -- something this large -- in an administrative rule. It has to be done in Congress if this is what you want. And I would urge that if in fact the administration is truly interested in providing more jobs for the people of our states, which have large holdings of federal lands, that they would do it in a way that would engage us in a partnership that would allow us to actually have some of the responsibility. Merely petitioning someone and saying what do you think, and then they say we'll let you know, doesn't mean a partnership to me.
RAY SUAREZ: Gov. Kempthorne, it sounds like your fellow governor still isn't clear on where the rules lie and how they'll work in an actual forest, Can you help him out?
GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE: No, I, again, I have great respect for Ted, and I just, I believe that with the abilities that the governor of Oregon has, he will be able to find that that partnering with the federal government, because we're the United States of America, we are not the federal government of America -- and I think Ted would agree with me -- all wisdom does not reside in Washington, D.C. Those of us who live in these areas... I think that we should have meaningful input. That's what the federal judges have said.
And to his credit, President Bush has not forgotten that as a former governor, that you need to bring the states into this. We established this federal government so let's have the states as partners. It can be a meaningful process for the citizen. This issue, Ray, has been going on for over two decades. And I think finally we may have a process that has been laid out by President Bush that may find us some resolution that will be beneficial to the entire citizenry of the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response from Ted Kulongoski. Governor, do you see the forest in your state being healthier, better served, better maintained five years out, ten years out?
GOV. TED KULONGOSKI: Not under this proposed rule. I think it will only be better forest management practices if the states actually end up in some responsible role where we actually have some control over the management practices. That's what's wrong. It isn't petitioning the federal government again.
Look, under the National Forest Management Act, they're required to consult with us. They're required to meet with the local communities. We have been doing that for years and years. It doesn't get us any place. I just think that what you have to understand is that 97 percent of the roadless area in this country is in 12 states. If in fact the federal forest lands belong to all of us, it isn't just for me or for Governor Kempthorne to decide what is roadless or not. I think this is a responsibility of the federal government. They're abdicating their responsibility. And at most, they're circumventing the congressional process in doing this.
RAY SUAREZ: Governors -
GOV. TED KULONGOSKI: I want to be able to get control of this issue as much as any governor, but I want to do it in a way where I have the responsibility for the action.
RAY SUAREZ: Governors, thank you both for being with us.