Heritage Forests Campaign News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 19, 2004
Tony Iallonardo, NET, 202-887-8855
Jim Furnish, consulting forester
Report: Forest Service Practices Threaten Public Lands
Practices Place National Forests in Eastern Half of U.S. at Risk of Logging, Drilling and Mining
(Washington, DC) The Federal agency charged with managing and protecting millions of acres of National Forest land has instead adopted practices that facilitate exploitation of these pristine lands, a new report says. According to the report, a systematic effort to apply anti-wilderness standards to land management and planning has resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres being deliberately eliminated from roadless area inventories, and thus from protection under the Roadless Rule and consideration as wilderness. The report was written by Jim Furnish, the former Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service who resigned from the agency in 2002 due to policy differences with the Bush administration.
As a consequence of the Forest Service's actions, the entire Midwest and the Eastern half of the United States are home to a slowly diminishing number of wild portions of National Forests known as "roadless" areas. Environmental experts say the practice not only reduces recreational opportunities, but could impact the state's ecology including its supply of clean water.
The Forest Service is legally required to inventory roadless areas during the development of forest plans and to evaluate these areas in order to make a wilderness recommendation to Congress. Under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, these roadless forests are protected from most forms of road construction, logging, and other development. Furnish claims that Eastern and Southern Regional Foresters have deviated from official guidance when developing an inventory of roadless forests and have misinterpreted their mandate developing and evaluating their forest plans.
"In recent years, the Forest Service has flagrantly abused its discretion by misinterpreting the Eastern Wilderness Act and incorrectly applying ad hoc guidelines," Furnish writes in the report, titled Eastern Roadless Areas Under Threat. "This has resulted in an inconsistent approach [and] raised questions about the agency's credibility and stewardship."
"The Forest Service is putting the environment at risk by placing exploitation of public lands ahead of stewardship," said Robert Vandermark, co-director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "From the lake states to the Appalachians and into New England, the trend has been to minimize and reduce roadless areas and wilderness recommendations."
Conservationists say the White House has exacerbated the threat by proposing to eliminate National Forests protections currently in place under the Roadless Rule. The Administration's plan eviscerates current forests protections, and instead allows state and local politicians to either petition for protection of roadless areas in their states or for more logging, mining and drilling.
The Roadless Rule was finalized in January 2001 after years of scientific study, 600 local public hearings and meetings and a record number of public comments. Prior to the current public comment period, the Forest Service received 2.5 million comments in favor of the rule. The Rule protects 58.5 million acres nationwide, while allowing temporary road construction in order to fight wildfires, ensure public safety, and protect forest health. The Rule ensures that national forests will continue to provide habitat for fish and wildlife, clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and endless opportunities for recreation.
Mr. Furnish's report is available here. The report was commissioned by the Heritage Forests Campaign, a coalition of environmentalists and other groups working to strengthen forest protections. Mr. Furnish worked for the Forest Service for 34 years, including serving as Deputy Chief from 1999 to 2001.
Find out more about threats to our national forests, including the repeal of the Roadless Rule.