In his defense of his recent sneak attack on the great Tongass rainforest [Free for All, Feb. 15], Sen. Ted Stevens deplores the landmark roadless rule, which ends logging of national forest wild lands. The rule blocks 49 huge timber sales slated for untrammeled forests throughout the Tongass. The rule hasn't stopped regional employment from rising. It will, however, help reduce taxpayer subsidies -- $30 million annually -- for logging there.

Stevens asserts that the rule is illegal in Alaska, quoting a law against "statewide roadless area reviews . . . in the State of Alaska." His ellipsis, however, hides the clause restricting that ban to reviews aimed at formal wilderness designation. The roadless rule, in contrast, allows activities wilderness status wouldn't.

He discounts public involvement in formulating the rule because a draft version excluded the Tongass. But the draft sought public input on the Tongass -- and 96 percent of the 1.1 million responses favored its inclusion.

Stevens claims officials promised him the Tongass would, nonetheless, be excluded. Imagine his outrage if a pro-conservation senator claimed to have extracted backroom agreements predetermining the outcome of a public process.

He also complains that logging is already banned on 19 million acres of the Tongass. But two-thirds of the Tongass's actual 17 million acres doesn't even have commercial timber.

Finally, Stevens says his bill would have protected a management plan written by President Clinton's team and prevented Bush officials from rewriting it. In truth, Clinton appointees replaced that flawed plan. And the senator's sneaky rider shielded it only from judicial review, not Bush administration rollbacks.

-- Nathaniel Lawrence

The writer is senior

attorney at the National

Resources Defense Council.