What is the Roadless Area issue about?
The proposed rule addresses the appropriate level of protection, management, and use of inventoried roadless areas and other unroaded areas.æ For more than 25 years, local decisions about roadless areas and other unroaded areas have been hotly contested Ü especially when the decisions dealt with road building, timber harvest, or other activities that alter an areaÍs intrinsic roadless characteristics.æ On many national forests and grasslands, roadless area management was the single biggest point of conflict in the adoption of land and resource management plans, often resulting in costly analysis, appeals, litigation, and public protest.
Why is the Forest Service undertaking this initiative now?
The Forest Service is undertaking this initiative for several reasons:
Because of the rapid loss of open space on private lands across the country, conserving the remaining roadless areas is important for future generations.
Road construction and other activities on public lands can compromise the significant social and ecological values of remaining roadless areas.
With an estimated 8.4 billion dollar backlog of road maintenance and reconstruction on the current 380,000-mile road system on National Forest System lands, public investment should focus on maintaining the current transportation system rather than building costly new roads into roadless areas.
Activities in roadless areas that alter roadless characteristics create public controversy, appeals, and lawsuits.
Up Front, What is being Proposed?
The Forest Service proposed action contains three elements:
1. Prohibition on Road Building
The proposed rule would generally prohibit new road construction or reconstruction in the unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands.
In addition to the prohibitions on new road building and reconstruction in unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas, the proposal would also establish procedures for use during the forest plan revision process requiring local managers to:
a. Evaluate the quality and importance of roadless characteristics b. Determine whether and how to protect roadless characteristics in the context of multiple-use objectives.
Local managers would use the procedures and further public involvement as part of the forest plan revision process to make future decisions about what activities, such as recreation, timber harvest, and grazing would be appropriate in inventoried roadless and other unroaded areas.
Why are Roadless Areas so important?
Inventoried roadless areas comprise over 54 million acres, or 28 percent of National Forest System lands. Areas without roads have inherent values and characteristics that are becoming scarce in an increasingly developed landscape. While National Forest System inventoried roadless areas represent only about 2 percent of the total landbase of the United States, they provide significant opportunities for dispersed recreation, clean, clear sources of public drinking water, and large undisturbed landscapes that provide privacy and seclusion.æ
In addition, these areas serve as bulwarks against the spread of invasive species and often provide important habitat for rare plant and animal species, support the diversity of native species, and provide opportunities for monitoring and research.
What is the current status of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule?
The Forest Service has recently issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) describing the effects of various alternatives for managing the inventoried roadless areas in the national forests and grasslands.Ê The preferred alternative from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) has been modified in response to public and agency comments and scientific analysis.Ê A final rule based on the preferred alternative and other information in the FEIS will be issued after December 18, 2000.
What is the preferred alternative?
The preferred alternative, identified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, would prohibit most road construction and reconstruction in the 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas.Ê This alternative would also prohibit timber harvest except for stewardship purposes within inventoried roadless areas.Ê Full implementation on the Tongass National Forest would occur in April 2004.Ê Exceptions to road building exist for certain classes of activities include:
* Health and safety threatened by a catastrophic event.
* Environmental cleanup.
* Statutory or treaty rights.
* Irreparable resource damage.
* Hazardous road conditions.
* Federal Aid Highway projects.
Under the preferred alternative, tree removal that does not involve road construction would be allowed in inventoried roadless areas for the following purposes if allowed by the forest plan:
* Personal use firewood and Christmas tree cutting.
* Trail construction and reconstruction.
* Hazard tree removal, fireline clearing, and forest boundary clearing.
Initially, the prohibitions would be applied on 49.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas located on National Forest System lands.Ê In April of 2004 when the roadless rule is implemented on the Tongass National Forest, the areas affected by the prohibitions would increase to 58.5 million acres.