By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Gov. Judy Martz said Tuesday she expects to make use of a proposed rule change by the Bush administration that would allow governors to request exemptions from a federal ban on road-building in remote areas of national forests.
The exemptions would be sought for all of the possible reasons suggested by the administration in an announcement Monday, including removal of timber that represent a hazardous level of fuel for wildfires, she said.
''I could see that Montana would be asking for exemptions at some time,'' Martz said in an interview.
''I think it's the right thing to do,'' she said of the administration's plan to allow state-by-state exemptions. ''It's really looking into the future for this administration to bring out something that's not just status quo, that will move us forward to have a healthy forest.''
Bob Decker of the Montana Wilderness Association condemned the proposal and Martz's willingness to embrace it.
''The president and the governor are just doing everything possible to defy public opinion on protection of remaining roadless lands,'' he said, adding that 78 percent of Montanans' comments on the issue supported the original roadless ban enacted by President Clinton shortly before he left office in 2001.
Decker said the rule change appears to be an effort to allow more logging.
The roadless policy, which prevents development on 58 million acres of federal land nationally, affects 6.3 million acres in Montana. It blocks road-building and most logging, grazing, oil and gas exploration, and mining.
Martz predicted her administration could request exceptions for all the possible reasons: protection of human health and safety, reducing fire fuel, restoring wildlife habitat, maintaining facilities such as dams, access to private property, and technical corrections on roadless area boundaries.
Martz, who was briefed on the proposal by Bush administration officials Tuesday, said up to 7 million acres nationally could be subject to temporary exclusion from the roadless policy to allow for projects.
The exceptions requested by states would be subject to a full environmental study, she said.
Martz expressed confidence that any requests from Montana will pass such scrutiny and be defensible. ''All that is going to be done is going to be done on science,'' she said. ''We can prove by science what needs to be removed, what needs to be protected.''
Martz said conservationists' appeals of projects allowed under the exemptions would diminish once such groups realize they can be carried out without environmental damage.
''They need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,'' she said of environmentalist interests. ''We all have an opportunity here to make something good out of something (forests) that has been horribly neglected for 100 years.''
Decker branded Martz's remark another example of divisive and destructive rhetoric.
''There are extreme or inaccurate views on all sides of the issue,'' he said. ''She's got some of them.''