The US government has tabled a plan to allow logging in forests under its protection.

The plan, which affects about 78 million ha, has been greeted with dismay by US environmental groups who claim the government is on the side of timber companies.

If approved it would give managers of 155 national forests the power to approval commercial exploitation. They would also no longer have to undertake detailed scientific reports on the impact of commerce on wildlife and the environment.

And in a blow to the environmentalists, postcard, e-mail and letter campaigns would no longer be registered as objections to forest management plans.

Green groups say the plan is an attempt to take away environmental guidelines approved at the end of President Clinton’s term of office.

Public consultation will now take place but the measures could become law by early next year.