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 Forest Service proposes new policy on roads

From Tread Lightly, April 1998

The Forest Service recently announced plans to adopt two new policies that will have a significant effect on roads available to the public for backcountry access and recreation. One policy adopts an 18 month moratorium on road construction in certain areas and the other addresses the long term management of the road network.

The first proposal proposes to temporarily suspend road construction for 18 months, on National Forest roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more and other, newly identified, unroaded areas greater than 1000 acres contiguous to designated Wilderness areas, "Wild" sections of Wild and Scenic Rivers or other roadless areas. The suspension would also apply to two other categories 1) any National Forest (NF) area of low-density road development and 2) any other NF areas that the Regional Forester has determined to have special or unique ecological charateristics or social values.

The construction moratorium should not have a significant effect on recreational users of the forests. However, the proposals to add additional roadless areas and to identify other areas with low-density roads or special and unique ecological or social values could have a long term detrimental effect on Tread Lightly! members and sponsors. Past experience with the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) process has shown that once areas are identified as special or roadless, the Forest Service's abilbity to normally manage these areas is severely limited because of the high level of controversy. Costly appeals and legal challenges can be expected any time plans are made to provide additional public vehicle access. The same will be true with these newly identified areas. The end result will be less public access to these special areas.

The final implementation of this policy could have a major impact on the roads available for public recreation. The proposal does not indicate how the need for the roads will be determined so it is entirely possible that many of the lightly used roads that provide access for camping, fishing, rock hounding, off-highway vehicle driving, hunting, skiing, mountain biking or simply driving for pleasure in SUV's could be closed. The direction to upgrade roads for safe and efficient travel would mean that the primitive roads that provide the majority of off-highway vehicle recreation could be eliminated or improved to the point that the off-highway experience is lost.

The need to protect the environment has always been at the heart of the Tread Lightly! message. Its efforts have been and continue to be focused on educating backcountry users in the responsible techniques to use when enjoying the out-of-doors. Tread Lightly! supports environmental protection but also encourages use and enjoyment of the National Forests. Implementation of this new policy could severely limit the public's ability to access these natural areas.

The comment period for these rules has ended. However, Tread Lightly! sponsors and members should continue to monitor the development of the rules and, if necessary, let your congressional delegations know your feelings. Everyone interested in enjoying the out-of-doors on National Forest lands should stay involved and support the retention, use, and development of necessary roads.

The second proposal deals with the long-term administration of the Forest Service road system. While the actual text of the proposed rule is not available, The Forest Service indicates that the objective is to balance scientific information, public needs, and funding levels when determining the size, purpose and extent of the future forest road transportation system. This will result in 1) Roads will be removed when they are no longer needed, 2) Roads most heavily used by the public will be safe and will promote efficient travel. 3) New roads will be designed more carefully to minimize ecological damage.


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