WASHINGTON – No new roads or logging will be allowed in 45 million acres of national forest land for the next year, the Obama administration announced Thursday.

The one-year moratorium reinstates a Clinton-era ban on new road construction and development in remote national forests. It’s designed to provide “clarity and consistency” on a number of disparate court rulings while the administration develops long-term management plans, said Chris Mather, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This is a way to provide some clarity and consistency while we develop a long-term roadless plan,” Mather said. “These conflicting court cases have created confusion, and we want to eliminate any inconsistency, and, more importantly, ensure the decisions that are made are reflective of President Obama’s commitment to protecting forests.”

The one-year “timeout” is a major step in protecting roadless areas, said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who along with 120 other members of the House of Representatives asked Vilsack to put the moratorium in place. They feared that they’d be unable to protect some of the land from damaging activities that might be able to proceed because of the conflicting court decisions.

Still, Rahall said, “these wild forests need permanent protection to continue providing clean water, wildlife habitat and boundless recreational opportunities.”

The moratorium won’t affect Idaho, where state officials have developed their own management plan for 9.3 million acres of national forest land, the most of any state besides Alaska.

The plan largely bans new roads in Idaho but does open 405,000 acres of roadless lands to full forest uses, including logging, road construction and phosphate mining.

“What they have done has created a solution to the problem that is the impetus for us doing this today,” Mather said of Idaho officials.

Environmentalists have had mixed reactions to the Idaho plan, but the Idaho Conservation League and the conservation group Trout Unlimited hailed it because it allows temporary roads only in the acres of roadless area where limited logging will be allowed to reduce fire hazard.

The fact that Idaho isn’t included is a good sign that the Obama administration won’t override environmental policies built with the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, said Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League.

“It just reflects the broad support that was built for Idaho’s roadless rules and the amount of attention that went into crafting it,” Oppenheimer said.

The Idaho plan, which took effect in October, modifies a proposal written by the state of Idaho under the guidance of then-Gov. Jim Risch in 2006. It had support from a number of environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited, but several others have since sued seeking to overturn it. They include The Wilderness Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and The Lands Council, all represented by EarthJustice.


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