National Forest System Roadless Areas
AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.
ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.
SUMMARY: The Forest Service is initiating a public rulemaking process
to propose the protection of remaining roadless areas within the
National Forest System. This proposed rulemaking responds to strong
public sentiment for protecting roadless areas and the clean water,
biological diversity, wildlife habitat, forest health, dispersed
recreational opportunities and other public benefits they provide.
The proposed rulemaking also responds to budgetary concerns
expressed about the national forest road system. Building roads into
roadless areas is expensive, and the public has questioned the logic of
building new roads into roadless areas when the Forest Service receives
insufficient funding to maintain its existing road system. Indeed, the
Forest Service has a growing $8.4 billion maintenance and
reconstruction backlog and receives only 20 percent of the annual
funding it needs to maintain its existing 380,000 mile road system to
environmental and safety standards.
To assist in determining the scope and content of a proposed rule,
the agency will prepare an environmental impact statement to analyze:
(1) The effects of eliminating road construction activities in the
remaining unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas on the
National Forest System; and (2) the effects of establishing criteria
and procedures to ensure that the social and ecological values, that
make both inventoried roadless areas and other uninventoried roadless
lands important, are considered and protected through the forest
planning process. Public comment is invited on the scope of the
analysis that should be conducted, on the identification of
alternatives to the proposal, and on whether the rulemaking should
apply to the Tongass National Forest.
DATES: Comments should be received in writing by December 20, 1999.
ADDRESSES: Send written comments to the USDA Forest Service-CAET,
Attention: Roadless Areas NOI, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, Utah
84122 or by e-mail to email@example.com.
Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names
and addresses when provided, will be considered part of the public
record on this proposed action and will be available for public
inspection and copying.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Project Team Leader, Scott Conroy,
Attention: Roadless Areas NOI, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 96090,
Washington, DC 20090-6090, (703) 605-5299.
Although they make up only a small percentage of the nation's total
land-base, roadless areas are critically important for the long-term
ecological sustainability of the nation's forests. Roadless areas serve
as reference areas for research, as a barrier against invasive plant
and animal species that harm native species, and as aquatic strongholds
for fish of great recreational, subsistence, and commercial value.
Roadless areas often provide vital habitat and migration routes for
numerous wildlife species and are particularly important for those
requiring large home ranges, such as the grizzly bear and wolf. Many
roadless areas also act as ecological anchors, allowing nearby federal,
state, and private lands to be developed for economic purposes.
The public has rightfully questioned whether the Forest Service
should build new roads into roadless areas when it lacks the resources
needed to maintain its existing road system. The current national
forest road system includes 380,000 miles of road, enough road to
circle the globe more than 15 times. But the agency currently has a
road reconstruction and maintenance backlog of approximately $8.4
In addition to the monetary costs, the environmental costs of road
construction in roadless areas remain visible and potentially damaging
for decades. Road construction increases the risk of erosion,
landslides, and slope failure, endangering the health of entire
watersheds that provide drinking water to millions of Americans and
critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Growing scientific information
demonstrates that road construction and other development in these
sensitive areas can allow entry of invasive plants and animals that
threaten the health of native species, increase human-caused fire,
disrupt habitat connectivity, and otherwise compromise the attributes
that make roadless areas socially valuable and ecologically important.
On January 28, 1998, the agency proposed revising the National
Forest Transportation System regulations. Specifically, the purpose was
to consider changes in how the road system is developed, used,
maintained, and funded (63 FR 4350-4351). On the same day, the agency
proposed a rule to suspend temporarily road construction and
reconstruction in certain unroaded areas (63 FR 4352-4354). In response
to the January 28, 1998, Federal Register notices, the agency received
over 80,000 public comments. The agency published a final rule,
referred to as the ``interim rule'', that temporarily suspended road
construction and reconstruction in unroaded areas on February 12, 1999
(64 FR 7290-7305).
In commenting on the National Forest System Transportation System
rule and the proposed temporary suspension rule, members of the public
expressed serious concerns that are relevant to this proposal (64 FR
7290). Among those key concerns are beliefs that:
- The temporary suspension of road construction/
reconstruction should be made permanent.
- Continued entry into roadless areas will decrease the
amount of wildlife habitat available by increasing fragmentation.
- The temporary suspension does not go far enough to protect
all roadless lands across the National Forest System.
- The temporary suspension should not have included
exemptions such as the Tongass National Forest and those areas covered
by the President's Forest Plan.
- Economic and social effects will result from reductions in
commercial timber harvest and other commodity production.
- Temporary suspension of road construction and
reconstruction essentially expands the wilderness system.
- Denying access to roadless areas violates the Alaska
National Interest Land Conservation Act.
The interim rule provided a ``time out'' for the agency to develop
a long-term road management strategy and to consider more fully public
concerns about roadless areas and road management. As a consequence,
the Forest Service is taking the following actions.
First, in the next several weeks, the agency will publish proposed
changes to the National Forest System Transportation System rules at 36
CFR Part 212 and to Forest Service Manual direction. This proposed rule
is designed primarily to better manage the existing national forest
road system. It would also establish new procedural requirements to
help managers make more informed decisions concerning entry into
roadless areas. A draft environmental assessment will accompany the
Second, the agency is beginning a two part process, outlined in
this Notice of Intent, to initiate a public rulemaking process that
proposes protection of remaining National Forest System roadless areas.
The Forest Service proposes to promulgate a rule that would
initiate a two part process to protect roadless areas. If adopted, part
one would immediately restrict certain activities, such as road
construction, in unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas, as
previously identified in RARE II and existing forest plan inventories.
Possible alternatives to be considered in the draft environmental
impact statement for part one may include:
- Prohibiting new road construction and reconstruction
projects in the remaining unroaded portions of inventoried roadless
- Prohibiting new road construction and reconstruction
projects and commercial timber harvest in the remaining unroaded
portions of inventoried roadless areas;
- Prohibiting the implementation of all activities, subject
to valid existing rights, that do not contribute to maintaining or
enhancing the ecological values of roadless areas in remaining unroaded
portions of inventoried roadless areas; and
- Making no change in current policy (No action
Part two would establish national direction for managing
inventoried roadless areas, and for determining whether and to what
extent similar protections should be extended to uninventoried roadless
areas. After approval of a final rule, the direction for part two would
be implemented at the forest plan level through the plan amendment and
NEPA process. This national direction would guide land managers in
determining what activities are consistent with protecting the
important ecological and social values associated with inventoried
roadless areas. It would also guide land managers in determining what
activities are appropriate in uninventoried roadless areas that have
important ecological and social values.
Possible alternatives to be considered in the draft EIS for part
- National procedures and criteria that address how land
managers at the forest plan level should manage activities, other than
those addressed in part one, in inventoried roadless areas;
- National procedures and criteria that address how land
managers at the forest plan level should manage uninventoried roadless
areas so as to protect their unroaded characteristics and benefits.
Possible alternatives include:
a. Protecting unroaded areas based on their ecological
b. Protecting existing unroaded National Forest System lands that
are at least 1,000 acres in size and contiguous to unroaded areas of
5,000 acres or more on all other Federal lands;
c. Protecting existing unroaded areas of at least 1,000 acres;
- No change in current policy (No action alternative).
Alternatives may consider certain exemptions under specific
situations. In light of the recent revision of the Tongass National
Forest Land management plan and the transition in the timber program in
Southeast Alaska, we specifically solicit comments on whether or not
the proposed rule should apply to the Tongass National Forest and, if
so, whether inventoried Tongass roadless areas should be covered under
part one of the rule or only under part two.
Proposed NEPA Scoping Process
This Notice of Intent initiates the scoping process. As part of the
scoping period, the Forest Service solicits public comment on the
nature and scope of the environmental, social, and economic issues
related to the proposed rulemaking that should be analyzed in depth in
the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Comments on this proposal and
possible alternatives should be sent to the Content Analysis Enterprise
Team (CAET) at the address shown earlier in this notice. Dates and
locations of scoping meetings will be announced shortly.
The Importance of Participating in Scoping
The Forest Service believes it is important to give reviewers
notice of several court rulings related to public participation in the
environmental review process. First, reviewers of draft environmental
impact statements must structure their participation in the
environmental review of the proposal so that it is meaningful and
alerts an agency to the reviewer's position and contentions. Vermont
Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 553 (1978). Also,
environmental objections that could be raised at the draft
environmental impact statement stage, but are not raised until after
completion of the final environmental impact statement, may be waived
or dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 1016,
1022 (9th Cir. 1986) and Wisconsin Heritages, Inc. v. Harris, 490 F.
Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980). Because of these court rulings, it
is very important that those interested in this proposed policy
participate by the close of the 60-day comment period so that
substantive comments and objections are made available to the Forest
Service at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and respond to
them in the draft environmental impact statement.
Upon completion of the scoping process, a draft environmental
impact statement will be prepared. The draft environmental impact
statement and proposed rule are expected to be available for public
review and comment in Spring 2000, and a final environmental impact
statement and final rule will follow.
The Responsible Official
The Responsible Official is Mike Dombeck, Chief, Forest Service,
USDA, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, DC 20090-6090.
Dated: October 14, 1999.
Mike Dombeck, Chief.
(Source: Federal Register, October 19, 1999)
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