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A Middle Road on Forests

Road by road, forest by forest, case by case. That's the sensible answer given by the Bush administration to the question of whether it will close off about a third of the national forests to new roads for developers, loggers, and miners.

President Bush came into office with a pending rule, left behind by President Clinton, designed to do just that. The rule has been challenged in court by industry and by Western states like Idaho.

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Rather than junk the rule, however, Bush officials have opted to implement it, but with amendments that will bring more voices, particularly local ones, into the decisionmaking process on roads.

By opening the process to greater input from those directly affected, the administration wisely allows for environmentalists and forest-users to seek compromises that fit local circumstances. A blanket one-policy-fits-all rule makes little sense for diverse forest conditions from Alaska to Appalachia. A judge hearing a lawsuit against the Clinton rule called the former rulemaking process "grossly inadequate."

Public opinion favors keeping roads out of the forests; efforts to protect these lands from overuse will likely prevail. But justice requires that those most affected be heard, while reason calls for finding common ground between competing interests.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor