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Update on National Forests Roadless Initiative (7-10-01)

On January 5, 2001, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) submitted its Roadless Area Conservation Rule to the Federal Register. The rule was proposed in response to President Clinton's October 13, 1999 Roadless Initiative announcement that called for the review of management practices on National Forest lands that are classified as "inventoried roadless areas."  The rule prohibits road construction and logging on these lands, which constitute 58.5 million acres of National Forest.  There is concern from the geoscience community that the roadless initiative would make many areas inaccessible for scientific research, exploration, and other field studies. More information on this initiative and its impact on the geologic community is available in John Dragonetti's article "Conflict Over the Forest Service Proposed Roadless Plan", in the May 2000 issue of The Professional Geologist.

Most Recent Action
The Bush administration has decided not to appeal a May injunction issued by Idaho U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge against the Roadless Initiative.  The decision not to appeal comes just as the USFS announced a newly re-opened public comment process.  In order not to "cloud" the issue, the administration let the July 10th deadline pass without action.  A coalition of environmental groups have appealed the Judge's injunction on their own, but since the USFS is not appealing, chances are small that any appeal will succeed.  The USFS will be accepting public input on the Roadless initiative through September 10th.  (7/11/2001)

The U.S. Forest Service announced the re-opening of the public comment process on July 10th.  A notice in the July 12th Federal Register asks respondents to focus on questions dealing with forest management practices, how the USFS should work with local groups, and what activities should be allowed or banned at unroaded sites.  This action is viewed skeptically by environmental groups.  They claim the background material included with the USFS notice encourages local decision making and does not mention the strong national support for the Roadless Initiative.  Mike Anderson from the Wilderness Society says, "there's no reason why the Forest Service would not simply stick with traditional forest plans and continue to find reasons why roadless areas ought to be developed for oil and  gas, timber, any reason."  The timber products industry, however, supports the USFS notice stating that it should "generate information which is helpful to the Forest Service, correct mapping of roadless areas and incorporate local concerns about boundaries and inholdings."  According to them, only 94,600 acres of roadless areas are currently awaiting development and most of these are located in Alaska. (7/10/2001)

Current Congress
The House Resources Subcommittees on Forests and Forest Health and Energy and Mineral Resources held a joint hearing on April 4th to discuss the possible effects that the proposed Roadless Initiative would have on domestic fossil fuel supply. Randy Phillips from the U.S. Forest Service testified that the amount of oil and gas made inaccessible by the roadless rule is probably small, but the minerals industry may be more severely impacted. Several industry representatives testified against the rule saying that it would have substantial effect on the available supply of coal, oil, and natural gas from those areas. The greatest losses would be to operations that presently border the roadless areas and under the new rule would not be able to expand. Both subcommittee chairs agreed with the industry analysis and added that the rule itself was created in a rushed manner that precluded input from those that have the most to lose when the rule goes into effect -- communities that depend on receipts from logging and mineral operations. Other members were in favor of the rule because there is already a backlog of road maintenance within the agency. They think that the Forest Service should concentrate on repairing or retiring existing roads before building roads in the inventoried roadless areas. Witnesses from Trout Unlimited and The Wilderness Society testified in favor of the rule for reasons that it protected the environment, kept the land open for recreation such as hunting and fishing, and would enable the Forest Service to focus on eliminating the maintenance backlog in other parts of the national forest system. In their opinion the inventoried roadless areas have thus far remained roadless for other reasons -- most are difficult to access and any energy production that would occur on these lands would be very costly.   (4/18/01)

After delaying the implementation of the Roadless Initiative to review the rule, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced on May 4th that the rule would proceed as scheduled.  In a press release, Veneman stated that the agency would provide amendments in the coming weeks to ensure local input and to provide more flexibility for communities.  While the Administration has agreed to uphold the rule, several lawsuits have been filed to impede the implementation of it on the grounds that the rule lacked the public process required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Idaho U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge released his decision on May 10th to halt the Roadless Initiative.  Chances are that any proposed amendments by the administration will work to mediate issues raised in the Idaho ruling.   (5/14/01)

On October 13, 1999, President Clinton directed the U.S. Forest Service to begin an open and public dialogue about the future of inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System.  Under President Clinton's Roadless Initiative, the U.S. Forest Service proposed new regulations to protect roadless areas.  Between October 19, 1999 and January 5, 2001, the Forest Service released an Environmental Impact Statement, several regulation proposals, and maps outlining the areas that would be affected by the roadless initiative.  Current U.S. Forest Service regulations allow local Forest Service supervisors to permit road building on national forest lands in accordance with the multiple-use framework required by law.  The final rule proposed by the Forest Service on January 5, 2001, prohibits construction of roads and logging in inventoried roadless areas.

Total National Forest Service lands total 192 million acres with 58.5 million acres designated as inventoried roadless areas.  U.S. Forest Service lands that lack official roads usually contain rugged terrain, low-value timber, or are considered ecologically sensitive.  According to the Federal Register notice of proposed regulation, the initiative is a response to strong public sentiment for the protection of roadless areas and the clean water, biological diversity, wildlife habitat, forest health, dispersed recreational opportunities, and other public benefits provided by these areas.  This action also responds to budgetary concerns and the need to balance forest management objectives with funding priorities.

Many have objected to the proposed regulatory change.  Some protest that the public input process was not broad enough to address all concerns about the initiative.  Others fear that the rule would inhibit the fighting of wildfire and may put lives and property at risk.  Still others feel that the initiative violates the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (16 U.S.C. 528) and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.) that govern U.S. Forest Service land management activity.

A timeline of events and the text of the final rule are found on the Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation website.  More information about activities during the 106th Congress is available at AGI's Roadless Initiative Update.

Sources:  AGI website, Geeenwire, E&E Daily, Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation website

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by AGI/AAPG Spring 2001 GAP intern Mary H. Patterson, AGI/AAPG Summer 2001 GAP intern Chris Eisinger and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted February 18, 2001; Last Updated July 11, 2001

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