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CURRENT ANNOUNCEMENTS AND NEWS RELEASES
SOURCE: Federal Register, March 3, 2000
National Forest System Road Management and Transportation System;
Proposed Rule and Notices
AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.
SUMMARY: The Forest Service has concluded that it must thoroughly
review its forest road system policy. This action is necessary to
ensure that the road system, which is one of four emphasis areas in the
agency's Natural Resource Agenda, meets current and future management
objectives for National Forest System lands; provides for safe public
use; allows for economical and efficient management within likely
budget levels; and, to the extent practicable, causes minimum adverse
environmental impacts. Accordingly, the Forest Service gives notice of
proposed revisions to its transportation system rules at 36 CFR part
212 and of proposed corollary revisions to Forest Service
administrative directives. Both notices are published separately in
this part of today's Federal Register.
The Forest Service invites written comments on these documents and
will consider those comments in development of the final rule and final
administrative policy that the agency will publish in the Federal
DATES: Comments must be received in writing by May 2, 2000.
ADDRESSES: Send written comments to USFS CAET, Attention: Roads, P.O.
Box 221090, Salt Lake City, UT 84122 or to roads/wo__caet-
All comments received, including names and addresses when provided,
are placed in the record and are available for public inspection and
copying at Forest Service headquarters, 201 14th Street SW, Washington,
D.C. 20250. Persons wishing to inspect the comments are encouraged to
call 202-205-1400 to facilitate building entrance.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Heidi Valetkevitch, Office of
Few natural resource issues in recent years have attracted as much
public scrutiny as the management of the Forest Service road system.
Forest roads can have adverse impacts on watersheds, especially if
poorly maintained. Few marks on the land are more lasting than roads.
Yet, forest roads are essential for forest use and often serve as the
backbone of rural transportation networks.
The estimated 380,000 miles of classified Forest Service roads on
National Forest System lands are extensive and diverse. Most of the
existing road system was built over the last 50 years for timber
harvest and log removal. In the decades after World War II, logging
traffic tripled, peaking in 1990. But when timber harvests on the
national forests declined in the 1990's, logging traffic fell to 1950
levels. By contrast, recreation forest road use has grown to 13 times
its 1950 rate. Driving for pleasure is the single largest recreational
use of Forest Service managed lands, constituting 35.8 percent of all
recreation in 1996. In summer, recreation drivers on the national
forests account for 13.6 million vehicle-miles per day. The outlook is
for recreational road use to grow by an additional 64 percent by the
Managers today must wrestle with many complicated forest road
Environmental damage. The negative effects on the landscape of
constructing new roads, deferring maintenance, and decommissioning old
roads are well documented. Unwanted or non-native plant species can be
transported on vehicles and clothing by users of roads, ultimately
displacing native species. Roads may fragment and degrade habitat for
wildlife species and eliminate travel corridors of other species.
Poorly designed or maintained roads promote erosion and landslides,
degrading riparian and wetland habitat through sedimentation and
changes in streamflow and water temperature, with associated reductions
in fish habitat and productivity. Also, roads allow people to travel
into previously difficult or impossible to access areas, resulting in
indirect impacts such as ground and habitat disturbance, increased
pressure on wildlife species, increased litter, sanitation needs and
vandalism, and increased frequency of human-caused fires.
Substandard roads. Many roads on the national forests do not meet
current standards for safety and environmental protection. Many of
these are classified roads that have not been properly maintained for a
variety of reasons. Some were crudely pioneered by early settlers.
Others were planned for temporary access but never closed. Still others
evolved from tracks made by off-road vehicles. Due to their haphazard
nature, unclassified roads have far more adverse impacts on the
environment than do permanent, properly planned forest roads that are
well engineered and maintained. While the agency estimates more than
60,000 miles of unauthorized, unplanned, and temporary roads exist on
National Forest System lands, a complete inventory of unclassified
roads is needed to identify roads which should be decommissioned.
Roadless areas. The National Forest System has more than 50 million
acres of inventoried roadless areas. These areas were inventoried
through a national roadless area review in the 1970's (RARE II) or
through subsequent regional and local forest planning activities. A
further refinement of roadless area acres may occur through the
agency's roadless initiative begun October 19, 1999. Because building a
road in a roadless area often has an irreversible impact, the public
debate over road building and other uses of these roadless areas has
persisted. Through public participation in forest planning and project-
level proposals, through appeals and litigation, as well as through
public forums over the last decade, the Forest Service has witnessed
the increasingly strong public sentiment that new roads should not be
built in the remaining roadless areas. Nevertheless, many others
believe that these areas should be available for a wide variety of
uses, including road construction.
Additional facts related to the nature and scope of the Forest
Service road system, public demand, funding, and the environmental
impacts of roads are in Appendix A at the end of this notice.
The shift in public use of national forests and changes in user
expectations require new approaches to deciding the appropriate extent,
use, and standards of the Forest Service road system. Current funding
is inadequate to maintain all Forest Service roads to their intended
safety, service, and environmental standards. Therefore, to continue to
effectively manage the Forest Service road system, the agency must
carefully consider the extent of the system and applicable safety,
service, and environmental standards, as well as explore new funding
On January 28, 1998, in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
(63 FR 4350), the Forest Service announced its intent to revise
regulations concerning management of the national forest transportation
system. Simultaneously, the Forest Service published a proposed interim
rule (63 FR 4351) to temporarily suspend permanent and temporary road
construction and reconstruction in certain unroaded areas of National
Forest System lands. The purpose of the interim rule was to take a
``timeout'' for 18-months while the Forest Service developed a revised
road management policy and analytical tools to provide a
more ecological approach to existing and future road needs.
A final interim rule, issued on February 12, 1999 (64 FR 7289),
temporarily suspended permanent and temporary road construction and
reconstruction in certain unroaded areas of National Forest System
lands. The temporary suspension is in effect until development of a
revised Forest Service road system policy, or 18 months from the
effective date of the interim final rule, whichever is sooner.
In spring 1999, the Forest Service conducted focus group meetings
for input from various segments of the public and Forest Service
employees to gather detailed ideas about the development of the
agency's revised road policy. Led by a facilitator from outside the
agency, the focus groups contributed the views of specific interested
groups, including employees, regarding roads and transportation on
public lands. These ideas were considered along with the wide range of
public comments received in response to the Advanced Notice and the
proposed interim rule (over 164,000) in developing the proposed long-
term road management rule and policy published in this part.
A summary of the information the Forest Service received from the
focus group sessions is available at www.fs.fed.us/news/roads. A
complete summary of the analysis of public comments on the Advanced
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is found in ``Proposed Rulemaking on
Administration of the Forest Development Transportation System--
Analysis of Public Comments: Final Scoping Report,'' dated August 20,
1998. This report is available upon request from the Director,
Ecosystem Management Coordination, Forest Service, USDA, P.O. Box
96090, Washington, DC 20090-6090 and at www.fs.fed.us/news/roads.
Proposed Road Management Strategy
The agency has identified three primary actions to help find an
appropriate balance between safe and efficient access for all forest
road users and protection of healthy ecosystems:
1. Develop new analytical tools to decide when--and if--both new
and existing roads are needed to meet resource management objectives.
2. Aggressively decommission nonbeneficial or unauthorized roads
that are determined through forest planning and NEPA and other analyses
to be damaging to the environment or to be no longer necessary for
achieving resource managing objectives.
3. Maintain and improve those important roads needed for
recreation, rural access, and the sustainable flow of goods and
services which do not compromise healthy lands and waters.
To achieve these objectives, the Forest Service is proposing
revisions to the road system rules at 36 CFR part 212 and to Forest
Service administrative directives governing transportation analysis and
Proposed Rule. The rules at 36 CFR part 212 govern administration
of the forest transportation system. The rules address development of
transportation programs, construction, maintenance, and management;
ingress and egress; access procurement; and road-use restrictions.
To improve its road management, the Forest Service proposes to
revise 36 CFR Part 212 to shift the emphasis from transportation
development to managing environmentally sound access. This shift
requires clarification of terminology associated with managing the
transportation system. The proposed revision reflects changes in public
opinion, demand, and use of National Forest resources and increased
understanding and knowledge about the adverse environmental impacts of
road construction, reconstruction, and the lack of maintenance. The
proposed revision of Part 212 shifts the focus of road management from
development and construction of new roads to restoring and maintaining
those roads needed to meet resource objectives, as identified through
land and resource management planning, and decommissioning unneeded
roads. The proposed rule also includes a requirement to use a science-
based transportation analysis to identify the minimum Forest Service
road system needed for administration, utilization, and protection of
National Forest System lands and resources, while providing safe and
efficient travel and minimizing adverse environmental effects. This
analysis is necessary to identify and objectively consider the
environmental, social, and economic impacts of proposed road
construction, reconstruction, and decommissioning at multiple scales in
the context of realistic funding expectations. The information derived
from this analysis will also help National Forest System managers to
more strategically address priority transportation issues.
The notice of proposed rulemaking is published separately in this
part of today's Federal Register.
Proposed Revisions to Forest Service Manual. In addition to the
proposed rule changes, the Forest Service has identified several areas
that require revision to its administrative direction on roads in
Forest Service Manual (FSM) Title 7700--Transportation system and
Chapter 1920--Land and Resource Planning. These changes would clarify
terminology and direction to provide the minimum forest transportation
system for administration, protection, and use within a context of
minimizing adverse environmental impacts and restoring healthy
ecosystems. These proposed changes would require a comprehensive
transportation system inventory and incorporate a science-based,
multiple-scale transportation analysis into the forest planning
process. The inventory and analysis will allow more careful
consideration of decisions to construct new roads or decommission old
ones. The proposed changes emphasize maintenance of needed roads and
decommissioning of unneeded roads. The policy also provides for
additional consideration and protection of unroaded area values in the
land and resource planning management process.
The notice of the proposed revisions to FSM 7700 and 1920 are
published separately elsewhere in this part of today's Federal
New Analysis Process
The Forest Service must balance the need for agency and public
access against the environmental costs associated with road
construction and reconstruction. To accomplish this, Forest Service
researchers and resource specialists have developed an integrated,
science-based roads analysis process that allows objective evaluation
of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of proposed road
construction, reconstruction, maintenance, and decommissioning.
A science-based road analysis process recently developed and tested
by the Forest Service is entitled Roads Analysis: Informing Decisions
About Managing the National Forest Transportation System (USDA Forest
Service, 1999, Misc. Rep. FS-643).
This road analysis processs comprises six steps aimed at producing
needed information and maps. The steps are as follows:
Step 1--Setting up the analysis.
Step 2--Describing the Situation, i.e., the existing road
system in relation to current forest plan direction.
Step 3--Identifying issues.
Step 4--Assessing benefits, problems, and risks.
Step 5--Describing management opportunities, establishing
priorities, and formulating technical recommendations that respond to
issues and effects.
Step 6--Reporting, which includes maps and supporting
information important for making decisions about future characteristics
of the road system and changes to forest plans.
The road analysis neither makes decisions nor allocates lands for
specific purposes. Rather, the new science-based road analysis
identifies and addresses a set of possible issues and applicable
analysis questions that, when answered, produce information for forest
line officer consideration about possible road construction,
reconstruction, and decommissioning needs and opportunities. The road
analysis process examines issues at various scales, is flexible, and is
driven by road issues important to the public and to managers.
This report is available from Publications Distribution, Rocky
Mountain Research Station, 3825 E. Mulberry Street, Fort Collins, CO
80524-8597; email@example.com or www.fs.fed.us/news/roads/
roadsanalysis.htm. Other National Forest transportation system research
efforts are also available at www.fs.fed.us/news/roads.
Implementing this proposed road management strategy would improve
service to users, protect environmental values, enhance public safety,
mitigate environmental impacts, promote viable local communities, and
boost credibility of our natural resource management. Reviewers are
asked to review the proposed rule and proposed policy which follow and
to provide the agency with comments. A table follows as Appendix B
which may help reviewers understand the overall strategy and how the
proposed rule and proposed policy relate.
Dated: February 25, 2000.
Appendix A--Forest Service Road System Facts
1. The forest transportation system is extensive and diverse; it
includes an estimated 380,000 miles of Forest Service roads. Public
roads, such as State and county roads, and private roads maintained by
others on National Forest System lands, also exist.
a. Approximately one-fourth (22 percent) of all Forest Service
roads serve passenger car use.
b. Over one-half (55 percent) of all Forest Service roads are
maintained for high-clearance vehicle use.
c. Approximately one-fourth (23 percent) of all Forest Service
roads are closed to highway use by the public. Closed roads may be used
for a variety of recreation uses, and for forest administration and
d. Currently, Forest Service inventories have identified at least
60,000 miles of unclassified roads including temporary roads and roads
that were never planned, built, or maintained to safety, service, and
environmental standards. It is anticipated that future inventories will
verify the existence of substantially more miles of unclassified roads.
e. More than 7,000 bridges on Forest Service roads exist; three-
fourths of these are on the roads serving passenger car use.
f. In 1998, new construction of Forest Service roads was 215 miles
or .06 percent of the total Forest Service road system. New
construction has trended downward annually from 2,310 miles in 1988.
2. While a significant portion of the 192 million acres of the
National Forest System is roaded, a significant and ecologically
critical portion remains unroaded.
a. Some 34.7 million acres are currently designated as wilderness;
approximately 6 million acres were proposed for wilderness designation
in forest plans.
b. The National Forest System has an estimated 50 million acres of
roadless Areas are inventoried through national roadless area review in
the 1970's (RARE II) or through subsequent regional and local forest
3. Current funding is inadequate to maintain all the existing roads
to intended safety, service, and environmental standards to permit
efficient and safe use, while mitigating adverse environmental impacts.
a. The Forest Service has available only about 20 percent of funds
necessary to fully maintain Forest Service roads to intended safety,
service, and environmental standards. As a result, roads not fully
maintained become restricted to use by high clearance vehicles or are
b. The backlog of deferred road maintenance and reconstruction
needs on Forest Service roads is $8.4 billion. This backlog is due to
the age of the arterial and collector roads (three-fourths are over 50-
years old), heavy use, and the lack of regular maintenance.
c. From 1991 to 1997, the Forest Service decommissioned an average
of 2,700 miles of roads per year.
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