RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is allowing nine mineral exploration projects to take place in roadless areas of the largest national forest outside Alaska.

Vilsack says the activity in Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and five other projects in national forests in Colorado, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were allowed under a 2001 federal rule banning construction of new roads on national forest land.

He says his agency has no discretion to stop mineral exploration activity in the roadless areas because of the 1872 Mining Law, which takes precedence.

Marge Sill of the Sierra Club criticized Vilsack's approval of the mining exploration projects in Nevada.

But Tim Crowley of the Nevada Mining Association praised the action.

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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