Knowles lawsuit plans top state protests over Clinton's national forest road ban

timber.jpg ANCHORAGE -- Gov. Tony Knowles announced Jan. 4 that he’s ordered Attorney General Bruce Botelho to file a lawsuit against the Clinton administration for its "midnight-hour executive action" that cuts off nearly a third of the country’s federal forest lands to most logging.

The plan immediately affects the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska.

Clinton’s order puts a halt to all new road construction in the Chugach and all road construction in the Tongass, except for developments involving timber sales that were already proposed.

Bob King, a spokesman for the governor, said no specific date has been set for filing the lawsuit, but that "it will be soon."

Knowles’ announcement was among the barrage of outrage from Alaska leaders over the order, which has come under intense attack from mostly Republican Western lawmakers, and from energy, timber and mining industries as being too restrictive.

"Our forests must be managed by the principles of sound science, conservation-based management, and an open, public process," Knowles said. "The executive action announced in Washington ... is based on little or no science, and makes a mockery of the public process that was involved in the creation of the Tongass Land Management Plan and shortcuts the process now under way for the Chugach."

Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both R-Alaska, said Clinton’s plan is contrary to the Tongass management plan, which already has cut off logging to at least 80 percent of the forest. Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte said Alaska stands to lose up to 380 jobs because of the roadless plan.

Knowles said he also will seek review of the roadless policy by the incoming George W. Bush administration.

King said the legalities are still being weighed, and that it’s unclear under what grounds the lawsuit will be filed, adding that Knowles’ intention is to "retain the integrity of the process."

Murkowski said Clinton’s rules bans road construction immediately in the Tongass -- a latecomer to the plan -- rather than 2004 as initially called for. Only sales already proposed are exempt, according to Kleeschulte. That exemption is expected to produce as much as 850 million board feet for harvest within three to five years, depending on market conditions, Kleeschulte said.

The plan, however, halts all new road construction for other uses, including recreation, tourism or mining.

The rule ultimately will mean a timber harvest reduction of up to 77 million board feet a year, Kleeschulte said.

If the policy is left unchallenged, conservation measures gained with the Tongass plan could easily be overturned by future executive action, Knowles said.

"There are no winners in the forest if the management of our resources is based on executive fiats rather than sound science and a public process," Knowles said. "Those who claim victory today may find themselves the victims of an executive action tomorrow. When federal policy establishes an open, public process in decision making, they must abide by the public’s decision. That’s why this action is wrong and must be challenged."

01/13/2001 - 8:00pm