Protect the national forest roadless areas


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech at a press conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on July 21, 2003.


Good morning. My name is Martha Marks, and I am president of Republicans for Environmental Protection.

I wish I didn’t have to be here doing this today.

I wish the Bush administration would just listen to the clearly-stated, frequently-stated wishes of the American people and protect the roadless areas in our national forests.

I wish our president and his subordinates would give the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule a chance to work. But they won’t, so here we are.


State and national leaders of REP are speaking up in press conferences around the country — one more time — in an effort to help President Bush learn a bit of history and remind him of a truth other Republican leaders have known: protecting our national forest roadless areas is good Republican policy.

The very first proposal to stop building taxpayer-subsidized roads in national forests came from the Republican administration of Richard M. Nixon. I have to wonder if anyone has ever told Mr. Bush that.

President Nixon believed that building roads in national forests was a fiscal and ecological boondoggle, and he was absolutely right. It’s just too bad that he let his Agriculture Secretary talk him out of it.

So while the rule protecting roadless areas is often called the “Clinton rule,” we at REP think everybody should start calling it the “Nixon rule” instead.


I’d like to make five points about Republican values and how they relate to roadless areas.


#1. We Republicans say we believe in fiscal responsibility.

Well… nationally, the Forest Service has a roads maintenance backlog of $8.5 billion and rising. That’s b as in budget buster.

Here in New Mexico alone, the roads maintenance backlog is nearly half a billion dollars. It is not fiscally responsible for the Forest Service to build roads it cannot afford to support timber sales in national forests that don’t pay their own way.

The Forest Service should be in the business of managing and conserving national forests — not creating a socialist paradise for industry at taxpayers’ expense.


#2. We Republicans say we believe in reducing the size of government.

A great way to start would be to take the good men and women of the US Forest Service out of the road-building business. If they did that, the Bush administration could actually look taxpayers in the eye and say: ‘We are spending your money wisely.’


#3. We Republicans say we believe in sound economics.

We often hear that oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Wrong. Water is the lifeblood of our economy. In time, we will find alternatives to oil. There is no alternative to water, not now, not ever.

Forests store, purify and deliver good, clean water. Americans knew that in the 1890s. It’s one reason the national forests were established in the first place. One-third of the nation’s major watersheds contain national forest roadless areas. National forests provide clean drinking water to 60 million Americans in 33 states, including New Mexico. And they perform that service for free.


#4. We Republicans say we believe in heritage, tradition and patriotism.

What could be more patriotic than conserving and protecting the American landscape? Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt set aside 130 million acres of national forests, to protect them from the land grabbers and other special interests of his era.

The national forests here in New Mexico — the Gila, the Cibola, the Carson, the Santa Fe, and the Lincoln — are part of Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy. He protected these vast forests because he was a patriot acting for the good of the nation.

National forest roadless areas are among the last remaining big wildlands in America. They will be increasingly important in the coming years because no one is making wildlands any more. We must conserve what is left, not use it up like spendthrifts. That would be the conservative thing to do.


#5. And finally, we Republicans say we believe the government ought to listen to the citizens it serves.

We conservationists often give the Forest Service an earful. But in 1999 and 2000, we praised Forest Service leaders for doing something right. We at REP America praised them for offering a serious, balanced proposal for conserving roadless areas. This wasn’t some inside-the-Beltway deal made in a smoke-filled room filled by suede-shoe lobbyists. The Forest Service went out and held public hearings — hundreds of hearings, all across America. They listened, really listened, and found that the vast majority of Americans — Republicans, Democrats, independents, whatever — the vast majority of Americans want the roadless areas of our national forests protected.


Is the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule perfect? Of course not. REP would like to see even stronger protections. The roadless rule is an administrative regulation. It can be weakened or even eliminated by bureaucratic fiat. But many roadless areas deserve to be designated by Congress as wilderness. Only the permanent protection afforded by the Wilderness Act will guarantee that our last remaining wild forests will remain here to serve, delight and inspire future Americans.

But those will be future battles.

Right now, we at Republicans for Environmental Protection call for implementing the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule as it was adopted in 2001.

It’s good fiscal policy, good economic policy, and good conservation policy. We have more than enough roads already. It’s time to give the forests and the taxpayers a break. It’s just that simple.

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