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Two judges on the Ninth Circuit of Appeals attracted a loud negative reaction when they ruled that the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional for school recitation because of the two words in it: "under God." They are rethinking their decision before they get reversed again by the U.S. Supreme Court, standard procedure for the Ninth.
Equally puzzling, but attracting less reaction, was a ruling last year by U.S. District Judge James Singleton in Anchorage when he ordered the U.S. Forest Service to study roadless areas in Tongass National Forest for designation as wilderness.
Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens were in Alaska over the July Fourth holiday. They reiterated their statement, published several weeks ago, that the judge and the Forest Service have violated a law passed by Congress. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, says no more wilderness studies will be conducted without congressional approval (Section 708(b)(4) of ANILCA). Stevens said that section means what it says, no more wilderness studies without congressional approval. Or, as he told one reporter, " 'What part of 'no more' don't they understand?' "
Attorneys representing environmental organizations allege that congressional approval isn't what the 1980 law intended. Even some Forest Service officials, especially President Clinton's appointees, allege that it isn't what Congress intended. Stevens, an attorney, wrote that section. We would like to be an observer when someone testifies before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and tells ranking minority member Stevens that he (Stevens) didn't mean "no more wilderness studies."
Three things concern us:
Why didn't Justice Department attorneys raise the "no more" issue when they were defending the Forest Service before Judge Singleton in the suit brought by environmentalists? The answer, we guess, is that it was President Clinton's Justice Department, headed by Janet Reno.
Why didn't Judge Singleton ask for clarification from Stevens when the issue came up? He certainly knows the senator who endorsed him for his position.
Why didn't the state administration intervene and bring up the "no more" issue?
State officials might have a second chance. They filed a lawsuit challenging the Clinton Administration's roadless rule - banning road construction in the roadless areas of all national forests. Alaska's case is in abeyance until the Ninth Circuit Court decides a similar case appealed from Idaho. If the Ninth sides with Idaho and grants an injunction to stop the roadless ban, the case and the ban are history. If the Ninth decides for the environmental side, Alaska can still pursue its action against the roadless ban because, unlike other states, it has the "no more" clause, according to legal sources.
We also hear that like the pledge of allegiance issue, the Ninth is expected to decide the roadless ban on a 2-1 vote. By then there might be a new state administration quicker to defend Alaskans and the congressional intent of ANILCA.
Judge Singleton? If he lived in California he would be the next nominee for the Ninth Circuit.
In the meantime, Forest Service personnel are holdings hearings on whether to recommend more areas of the Tongass for wilderness. Forest Service staff recommend no more, but many Alaskans are showing up at hearings asking for more. It's not that those testifying want more wilderness as such. They just don't want loggers, or anyone else, in their favorite recreation sites - sort of homesteads without title.
Somebody asks where are the supporters of a timber industry at these latest hearings? There are two answers: 1) Many of them left the state. Environmentalists successfully raised the bogeyman of large corporations "stealing" resources, thereby putting 2,700 people out of work, their lives destroyed or seriously damaged. They left town broke. The so-called bad guys - corporations - took cash settlements and went someplace else. 2) Although those supporting timber had been the majority testifying at hearings for the last three decades, they have been losing steadily. The message to them was that no one was listening, so why show up.
Despite his irritation with forces that ignore legal agreements and are killing the areas' economy, Stevens put $5 million in the 2002 budget for environmental studies and planning for timber sales for the small industry that survives. Another $4 million to continue that work is in the 2003 budget. Also in 2003 is $4 million to pre-road existing timber sales to make them more economic, plus $1 million to upgrade five log-transfer facilities. Stevens has been listening.
Williams is retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News and a former member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents.