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The Roadless Rule
Threats to Roadless Areas
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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

In This Section


" Eliminating the Roadless Rule: Details & Analysis of the Repeal

" Roadless Rule Legal Status

" 2.5 Million and Growing by the Day: An Overview of Roadless Rule Comments

" Roadless Acreage by State (in our Get Local Section)

" Other Threats to Our Forests

Roadless Rule Repeal Details About the Rule Change

Administration Abandons Roadless Rule; Leaves Forests Unprotected Against Logging

Following is an analysis by Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society of the Administrationís proposed regulations to replace the Roadless Area Conservation Rule with a State petition process, which USDA Secretary Veneman announced on July 12, 2004. The Administrationís draft rule is now posted on the Forest Service website and was published in the Federal Register on July 16, starting a 60-day public comment period.

Impact on Roadless Rule

The proposed rule would entirely eliminate the protections provided by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Without the Roadless Ruleís restrictions, management of roadless areas would revert to the management direction contained in local forest management plans. Nationwide, forest plans allow road building in about 59 percent of the 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas. Thus, once the draft regulations are finalized, most roadless areas will become vulnerable to new road construction for logging, energy development, and other commodity uses.

State Petition Process

The draft rule would establish an optional two-step State petition and rulemaking process for roadless area management. First, the Governor of any State with national forest inventoried roadless areas could petition the Secretary of Agriculture to adopt regulations for management of any roadless areas in the State. Petitions would have to be submitted within 18 months after the rule was finalized. Second, if the Governorís petition is accepted by the Secretary, the Forest Service would initiate a State-specific rulemaking.

However, there is no certainty that the process would result in any protection for roadless areas. The draft regulations make clear that any petition submitted by a Governor would not necessarily be accepted. Even if a petition is accepted, the outcome of the subsequent State-specific rulemaking would still be left up to the Administration.

Furthermore, the proposed petition process would impose considerable burdens on the State. The draft regulations require that the petitions address numerous issues that opponents of the Roadless Rule have consistently raised, such as property access, wildlife habitat management, and fire hazards. The petition would also have to show how the State involved the public, local governments, and resource experts in developing the petition. The Secretary could demand that the State provide additional information before taking action on the petition.

In addition, the State would have to make a commitment to participate as a cooperating agency in any environmental analysis of the subsequent state-specific rulemaking. This means that the State could be required to allocate agency personnel, funds, equipment, and other resources to assist the Forest Service in preparing environmental documents required by NEPA. However, even with the State as a cooperating agency, the Forest Service would retain decision-making authority as the lead agency over all key aspects of the environmental analysis.

In sum, the draft regulations provide little incentive for a Governor to engage in the proposed petition and rulemaking process. A Governor would be faced with meeting burdensome requirements to develop the petition and help prepare the subsequent environmental analysis, with no certainty that the Administration will accept the Stateís requests. Consequently, Governors who support roadless area protection may prefer to advocate for retaining the nationwide prohibitions in the existing Roadless Area Conservation Rule, rather than embarking on an untested petition process with a highly uncertain outcome.

In more detail: Legal Status of The Roadless Area Conservation Rule Prepared by Michael Anderson, Senior Resource Analyst, The Wilderness Society.

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