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Lawsuit Puts Federal Outdoors Panel’s Report in Limbo

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Times Staff Writer

The final report of a presidential commission on the outdoors has been placed in limbo--the panel disbanded and its recommendations unreleased--because of a court challenge by conservatives who say that the commission illegally plotted a strongly environmentalist agenda in secret meetings.

Before closing its doors last week, the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors spent 15 months and $1.9 million crisscrossing the country to develop proposals for expanding the nation’s commitment to recreation and conservation. In December, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the 12-member panel, said that its final report would call for creation of a $1-billion trust fund to acquire open space and the establishment of a nationwide network of scenic byways.

But critics--mainly groups representing commercial interests and private landowners--were aghast that a panel created by President Reagan would embrace such an avidly environmentalist and costly program. Last month, one group of opponents, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise based in Bellevue, Wash., filed a lawsuit in a Seattle federal court seeking to block the release of the final report.

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‘Foul and Illegal Report’

“We want to prevent there ever being a governmental stamp of approval placed on that foul and illegal report,” Center Executive Director Ron Arnold said Thursday. “It will have to serve as exactly what it is--that is, the environmental movement’s special-interest agenda for legislative action.”

No action is scheduled in the lawsuit until Feb. 20, when U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour will consider whether to issue a preliminary injunction that would keep the report bottled up indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the Administration, which commission staffers say gave a cool reception to early reports of the panel’s conclusions, is voluntarily keeping the report under wraps. According to one commission member, the Administration, in considering possible legislation or executive action on the outdoors, appears unlikely to do more than pick and choose among the recommendations, should they ever be formally transmitted to the President.

Expects Report’s Publication

“They’ll look in there, take out the good stuff, polish some of the stuff that’s still rough-hewn and just leave on the loading dock some of the stuff that is unattractive to the Administration,” said Derrick Crandall, a commission member who is president of the American Recreation Coalition.

Crandall said he is confident that the report will be published. “The government usually is not brought to its knees by a lawsuit on a procedural technicality,” he said.

But backers of the Seattle lawsuit insist that it is based on more than technicalities. The suit alleges that the commission repeatedly violated federal law by failing to publish notices of its meetings, keeping no minutes of some meetings and not having a government official present at all sessions, as the law governing such commissions mandates.

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“The fruit of illegal activities cannot be used. And this is clearly the fruit of illegal activities,” said Charles Cushman, executive director of the National Inholders Assn., a group of 15,000 landowners and permit holders in national parks and forests.

Commission officials have denied that any segment of the public was barred from offering comments, noting that the panel called 21 public hearings and heard testimony from more than 900 witnesses--including Arnold.

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