Roadless area moratorium news release

Loren Larson acf at
Thu Jan 22 16:41:31 EST 1998


                                                    Contact: Alan Polk

Forest Service Protects Roadless Areas and Announces Development of New
Transportation Policies

WASHINGTON (January 22, 1998, 1:00 p.m.) – The U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Chief of
the Forest Service, Mike Dombeck, today proposed a major overhaul of the
forest road system
including a proposal to halt all road construction in roadless areas on
National Forests. More

Dombeck said, "We intend to work with the American people, Congress, and
the scientific community
to develop a science-based forest transportation system that meets the
needs of local people while
minimizing, and reversing, environmental impacts such as erosion,
landslides, and degradation of wildlife
habitat and water quality."

The Forest Service road system is extensive. An estimated 373,000 miles
of authorized roads and an
additional estimated 60,000 miles of unplanned and unmanaged "ghost
roads" traverse the National
Forests – a road network far larger than the Interstate Highway System.
The Forest Service estimates
a $10 billion backlog in needed road reconstruction and maintenance.
Only about 40% of forest roads
are maintained to the safety and environmental standards to which they
were designed.

"Forest roads help fulfill many social, economic, and environmental
objectives," said Dombeck.
"However, of all the things that we do on National Forests, road
building leaves the most lasting imprint
on the landscape. Roads are a long-term financial commitment, once built
they must be maintained
year after year."

The proposal to develop new forest transportation regulations will be
announced in an Advanced
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) published in the Federal Register.
The ANPR invites public
comment and involvement in helping to shape the scope and content of new
forest road management
policies and regulations. The public comment period will last for 60

The agency identified three expected outcomes for the final road
management policy. First, fewer
forest roads will be built and those that are built will minimize
environmental impacts. Second, roads
that are no longer needed or that cause significant environmental damage
will be removed. Third, roads
that are most heavily used by the public will be made safer and promote
more efficient use.

To ensure that forests and future management options are not compromised
while the long-term road
policy is under public review and development, the Forest Service issued
a proposed interim regulation
("interim policy") to temporarily halt road construction in most areas
of the National Forest System that
are not presently roaded.

Dombeck noted, "We have ample new scientific evidence of the immense
social and environmental
values provided by roadless areas." As evidence, he pointed to new
scientific information that proves
over 60 percent of the healthiest aquatic habitats occur in roadless or
very low road density areas on
federal land in the Columbia River Basin, which includes all or parts of
seven western states. Certain
aspects of roads negatively affect 70 percent of key wildlife species in
this area.

Presently, 33 million acres of the National Forest System are roadless
but allow future roads. Of those
33 million acres, 9 million are defined as "suitable for timber harvest"
and therefore more likely to be

Dombeck pointed out, "We cannot afford to manage our existing road
system and are essentially
proposing a ‘time out’ on road building in roadless areas until we can
engage Congress and the
American people in a constructive dialogue about where and when new
roads should be built in
National Forests."

The interim roadless proposal will be in the Federal Register and is
open to public comment for 30
days. The proposal fully complies with all existing environmental laws.
Once effective, the policy would
remain in place for 18 months or until improved analytical tools are
developed to make more informed
decisions about building future roads in roadless areas, whichever is

The interim proposed policy would apply to about 130 National Forests
that have:

     Roadless areas inventoried and identified within their Land and
Resource Management Plans
     ("forest plans");
     Roadless areas over 1,000 acres that are adjacent to other roadless
areas of 5,000 acres or
     larger, congressionally designated wilderness, or "wild river"
corridors as classified under the
     Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; and
     Roadless or very low road density areas designated for inclusion by
Regional Foresters because
     of their unique ecological or social values such as those areas
inventoried through the Southern
     Appalachian Ecosystem Assessment.

Forests that have had their plans recently revised and those that were
recently amended by the
President’s Forest Plan for the Pacific Northwest would be exempted from
the interim proposal. For
revised forest plans that are still under public appeal, road
construction in roadless areas will be
addressed within the appeals period, as appropriate.

"These forests have recently completed an extensive, multi-year public
planning process so it is
important to people that we retain the integrity of the planning and
appeals processes," Dombeck said.
"We anticipate that the final long-term road policy will apply to all

  Dombeck added, "These proposals are sure to cause a great deal of
debate, but prudence and sound
    stewardship require us to take a cautious approach to road
construction and management. Our
 objective is to make scientifically based, publicly supported decisions
that best meet the changing needs
               of the American people while protecting our rich forest

Individuals or organizations seeking more information should contact
Rhey Solomon, Ecosystem
Management Coordination Staff, 202-205-0939, USDA Forest Service, 14th
and Independence,
Washington, DC, or email: roads/wo at


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