Incursions into America's Last Intact National Forests
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Despite assurances to the contrary, the Forest Service has begun to move forward with logging, mining, road construction and other activities in national forest roadless areas whose protective status is still under dispute.
One project has already built roads through the Sage Creek Roadless Area in Idaho to explore for phosphate. The Forest Service has subsequently proposed a massive expansion of an existing mine into the roadless area. Other proposed projects include oil and gas drilling in Colorado and Utah, as well as logging and road construction in New Hampshire, Alaska, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wyoming.
Broken Ground: A Closer Look at Five Roadless Area Incursions in Progress
Idaho's Caribou-Targhee National Forest
According to the Forest Service, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest lies almost entirely within the "Greater Yellowstone Area" or "the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," an area of over 18 to 20 million acres, and the largest remaining block of relatively undisturbed plant and animal habitat in the contiguous United States. It is known internationally for its dramatic wilderness and ecological integrity, and the United Nations has identified the Caribou-Targhee National Forest as a Biosphere Reserve.
Under the 2001 roadless rule, the area known as the Sage Creek Roadless Area in Caribou-Targhee National Forest was generally off-limits to road construction or reconstruction. The area contains sources of drinking water for local families, as well as important habitat for elk, mule deer, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. It also contains economically valuable phosphate deposits.
As a direct result of the repeal of the roadless rule in May 2005, mine exploration roads were built in this inventoried roadless area the following summer. Indeed, even as the administration prepared for the release of its new rule, the groundwork, as noted in an March 2005 Forest Service announcement, was being laid for these new roads:
Jerry Reese, Forest Supervisor for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest announced today that he has recommended that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issue a phosphate exploration license to [J.R.] Simplot for phosphate exploration in the South Manning Creek area of the Caribou National Forest. Reese has also signed a Decision Notice (DN) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) authorizing issuance of a special use permit for construction of temporary roads and other facilities necessary to implement exploration activities.
The Forest Service went on to note that, after acquiring additional necessary approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), J. R. Simplot would be authorized to:
[R]econstruct 2,000 feet of previously reclaimed road and construct 14,850 feet of new temporary road in order to drill 25 exploratory holes and install two ground water monitoring wells in the Sage Creek Inventoried Roadless Area of the Caribou National Forest.
On May 25, 2005 only 12 days after the final repeal of the Roadless Rule BLM gave public notice of an "invit[ation] to participate with the J. R. Simplot Company in the exploration of phosphate deposits" in the Sage Creek Roadless Area.
By September 2005, numerous roads had been constructed in the Sage Creek Roadless Area.
Without the May 2005 repeal of the roadless rule, no phosphate exploration roads could or would have been constructed in the Sage Creek Roadless Area. Not only did the rule prohibit new road construction on any mineral lands in roadless areas that were not already under lease, but it also explicitly prohibited mining-related road construction on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
In its response to an appeal of the mining decision by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Forest Service made clear that the project is consistent with the roadless repeal, which allows "new roads, road construction and disturbances associated with mining exploration."
The agency has since released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) with a preferred alternative that would expand the existing Smoky Canyon Mine into the Sage Creek as well as Meade Peak Roadless Areas.
Minnesota's Superior National Forest
In other instances, projects are moving through the Forest Service's planning pipeline. A prime example is the Superior National Forest of Minnesota, where a large-scale logging and road construction project is now planned in an area encompassing portions of eight roadless areas.
In April 2005, just weeks before the repeal was published, the Superior National Forest announced plans to log 16,000 acres, and allow 84 miles road construction and reconstruction, as part of its Echo Trail "forest management" project. While many of these activities have been proposed to access state inholdings, significant portions of the logging and road construction would have been prohibited under the 2001 rule.
The proposed action the largest logging project in Superior National Forest in nearly a decade proposes to remove 80 million board feet of timber from the forest.
Scoping for this logging project, including a field trip to the project site, was completed in May 2005, almost concurrent with the repeal. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement is now in process. While the extent of prohibited activities is unclear pending a final EIS and decision, it is clear that but for the roadless repeal, significant portions of this project could not proceed.
Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
Similarly, in Oregon a significant roadless-area logging project prohibited by the 2001 roadless rule has been authorized as a result of the Bush administration's actions. On July 8, 2004, the Forest Service issued a Record of Decision (ROD) authorizing logging in inventoried roadless areas of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in connection with the "Biscuit Fire Recovery Project." Specifically, the ROD authorized the removal of 194 million board feet of timber from 8,174 acres of the North and South Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas.
The North and South Kalmiopsis combined are about 190,000 acres in size, with approximately 175,000 acres contiguous with the boundary for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (179,000 acres). Together, the North and South Kalmiopsis comprise the largest roadless areas along the Pacific Coast.
Alaska's Tongass National Forest
In Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the Forest Service has adopted a five-year timber sale schedule that focuses heavily on roadless areas. It includes 24 timber sale projects in roadless areas previously protected by the 2001 rule.
One example, the Threemile Project, which has been approved, would build roads through and log the extraordinary East Kuiu Roadless Area complex on Kuiu Island. This area encompasses an extensive and intricate coastline of estuaries, coves, and bays outlining rich old-growth forests. Resident wildlife includes wolf, moose, black bear, marten, river otter, beaver, Sitka black-tailed deer, waterfowl, and bald eagle.
Additional Roadless Area Incursions
This table contains a selected list of some of the most egregious incursions into previously protected roadless areas throughout the United States.
For more information:
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