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In last days, Clinton begins environmental offensive

The ambitious plan to protect forests is being called historic and could bolster his conservation legacy.

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With the clock ticking down on his presidency, Bill Clinton ordered that nearly one-third of America's national forests be made off limits to logging, mining, and road-building.

To some, the action - which covers an area the size of Oregon - is historic, signaling an official end to destructive policies that began more than 150 years ago with the opening of the Western frontier. To others, the proposal is unreasonable, skirts the authority of Congress, and could put thousands of Westerners out of a job.

It's being called one of the most sweeping environmental plans of the past 100 years, potentially placing Mr. Clinton in the company of conservation president Theodore Roosevelt. Coming just two months before the administration is scheduled to leave office, it also represents one of the president's final major opportunities to leave a lasting mark.

"In terms of securing the nation's wild heritage for future generations, this is almost as momentous as when the forest system was created a century ago," says Chris Wood, a senior Forest Service adviser in Washington.

The 58.5 million-acre roadless-protection plan is even bigger and farther reaching than the original proposal unveiled in May. It reduces the total volume of trees that can be cut, essentially closing the door on any aspirations to renew the logging campaigns of old. And significantly, it extends preservation to millions of acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which has been a key battleground for logging-rights for more than 20 years.

Yet it also appeases some critics by allowing for management - including the thinning of dense tree stands - to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

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