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RL30647 - The National Forest System Roadless Areas Initiative (pdf)

22-Jan-2002; Pamela Baldwin; 24 p.

Abstract: In part to recognize the importance of roadless areas for many purposes and in part because making project decisions involving roadless areas on a forest-by-forest basis as part of the normal planning process was resulting in controversy and litigation that consumed considerable time and money, the Clinton Administration established a new national-level approach to the management of the roadless areas in the National Forest System. A record of decision (ROD) and a final rule were published on January 12, 2001, to be effective March 13, 2001, that prohibited road construction and reconstruction in 58.5 million acres of inventoried forest roadless areas, with significant exceptions. Most timber harvests in the roadless areas also were prohibited, but some timber cutting would have been allowed for certain specified purposes, including improving habitat for threatened, endangered, proposed, or sensitive species, or maintaining or restoring ecosystem composition and structure, such as by reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects. The new prohibitions would have applied immediately to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, but roads and harvests inventoried roadless areas could go forward if a notice of availability of a draft environmental impact statement for the activities in question had been published before January 12, 2001. The Bush Administration initially postponed the effective date of the roadless area rule, then decided to allow it to be implemented while proposing amendments. However, the Federal District Court for Idaho concluded that intentions to amend the Rule were not sufficient to cure its infirmities, and granted a preliminary injunction preventing its implementation. In June the Chief of the Forest Service issued interim management protections and on July 10th, 2001 the Administration filed an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on possible amendments to the Roadless Area Rule, but new proposed rules have not yet been published. A series of interim management directives were issued that largely reverse the roadless area management approach of the previous Administration. This interim direction is already in effect, but comment has been requested retroactively. On September 20, 2001, comments were also requested on a proposed interim directive that would facilitate actions in roadless areas, such as salvage sales of up to one million board feet of timber that currently are €categorically excluded€ from required environmental analyses in some instances. Comments on this proposal were due by November 19, 2001, but final direction has not yet been issued. Although it is difficult to say with certainty what management direction currently applies to the roadless areas and what will ultimately emerge, it appears that while environmental analyses and protection of these areas are permitted under the current provisions, those outcomes are neither compelled nor as likely as they would have been under the previous policies, and more activities in the roadless areas are likely to be allowed. This report traces the development of the roadless area rule and related rules on planning and roads. It also describes the statutory background, summarizes the final rules, reviews subsequent events, and analyzes some of the legal issues. The report will be updated as circumstances warrant.

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* These CRS reports were produced by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress providing nonpartisan research reports to members of the House and Senate. The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has made these reports available to the public at large, but the Congressional Research Service is not affiliated with the NCSE or the National Library for the Environment (NLE). This web site is not endorsed by or associated with the Congressional Research Service. The material contained in the CRS reports does not necessarily express the views of NCSE, its supporters, or sponsors. The information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. NCSE disclaims all warranties, either express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall NCSE be liable for any damages.