WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Al Gore should cease all participation in the Clinton administration's proposal to ban roads and other development in 43 million acres of roadless forests, two GOP committee chairmen said Friday.
Administration officials last month unveiled a proposed rule that would bring about the ban but said they will not reach a final decision until the fall. A public comment period runs through July 17.
Gore said during a campaign stop earlier this week that he would be unyielding in his protection of national parks and forests.
''And just so I'm crystal clear about it: No new road building and no timber sales in the roadless areas of our national forests,'' he said.
Gore also said he would protect roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska -- the nation's largest forest. The proposed rule alternative currently favored by the administration defers a decision on the Tongass until 2004.
Sen. Frank Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Alaska Republicans, said Gore's statements shows he has made up his mind on the proposed rule.
''His untimely interjection at a campaign event threatens to fatally taint the balance of the rule-making process and the final rule,'' the Alaskans said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Young chairs the House Resources Committee. Glickman's department includes the Forest Service.
Keven Kennedy, an agriculture department spokesman, said Gore's comments ''didn't bypass or circumvent the public process, it was just part of the process. This doesn't predispose a decision on the roadless issue.''
About 60 million acres of the 192 million acres of federal forests are considered wild, or undeveloped. The rest of the acreage is host to a wide range of activities, including logging, camping, skiing and mining.
Environmentalists say roads cause runoff, disrupt plant and wildlife and make it easier for logging, mining and off-road-vehicle riding.
Industry groups and some recreation groups have complained the roadless proposal would lock them out of forests.
The forest protection plan requires no congressional action, relying on regulations to be issued by the Forest Service after an environmental review and public comments.
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