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Roadless and Clueless

In the waning days of his presidency, President Clinton approved Forest Service regulations that purported to provide lasting protection for all remaining roadless areas on America’s National Forests. The 2001 “Roadless Area Conservation Rule” provided some restrictions on new road construction and logging in roadless areas. It was a notable step in the right direction. However some green groups, as well as anti-conservation interests on the far right, claimed the 2001 Roadless Rule protected all remaining roadless areas as “defacto wilderness”, and said the policy could not be undone. At this point in time, we all know that wasn’t true.

The original Rule included loopholes and omissions that permitted new road construction and logging inside roadless areas under the pretenses of ecosystem maintenance/restoration, fuel reduction, or insects. Virtually every timber sale in Utah since 1998 has been dressed up disingenuously to meet one of these categories. Just after Clinton signed the original Roadless Rule, the Manti-La Sal National Forest proposed logging old growth in a roadless area, and pointed out the logging cleared all of the Roadless Rule’s hoops. The original rule also allowed oil and gas development for leases already awarded; continued livestock grazing; permitted hard rock mining; and did not address motorized recreation in roadless areas. In practice, these extractive activities inside America’s roadless areas would not be stopped, and the regulations certainly did not result in “defacto wilderness”.

President Bush wasted little time in placing the Roadless Rule on hold stating his Administration would come up with its own roadless policy. Under both Presidents, public input has been unprecedented in volume and overwhelmingly in support of preserving all of America’s remaining National Forest roadless areas. Meanwhile, the issue was argued in various courts. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy, while a Wyoming District Court ruled the policy created ‘defacto Wilderness’ illegally. That decision was appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Bush Administration rescinded the policy on the same day that the Court heard the case. In our view, a horrible mess was created that in actuality still threatens America’s remaining National Forest roadless areas, while leaving the American public to believe that our nationally owned public roadless areas have been preserved.

The Bush Roadless Rule replaced the Clinton Rule’s purpose of “lasting protection” for all roadless areas with one to “address the management of” roadless areas and gave management authority to State Governors. State Governors now have unprecedented authority to determine the fate of America’s roadless lands–state-by-state. There is one problem with this–it is illegal. States have no authority to dictate management of our National Forests.

Unfortunately, many environmental groups are providing ‘green wash’ for Bush’s ‘states rights’ roadless plan by legitimizing the process and participating in the Governor’s rule making. The Utah Environmental Congress (UEC) firmly believes that while these groups may be well intentioned–they are most definitely off the mark. UEC has heard repeatedly that some intend to participate in the Governor’s petition of roadless areas while simultaneously working to defeat it through litigation. We believe this sends a mixed message to the American people in an already confusing issue.

For example, the Oregon Governor’s office submitted its roadless petition requesting the application of the 2001 Rule’s logging and road building restrictions. The Bush Administration categorically rejected the petition. So while on one hand the Bush Administration claims to be turning management direction of our National Forests over to the States, if the state wants to conserve roadless areas, the Administration will reject those petitions. This one example should demonstrate how truly disingenuous the Bush Roadless Policy is.

Utah Governor Huntsman is preparing a roadless petition and the vast majority of people he has involved in it are from industry, county, and state government interests that desire removing restrictions on mining, logging, and new roads inside roadless areas. Utah’s petition is being developed very quietly with conservative county interests and no public meetings, notice, or announcements soliciting public input. The Governor’s web page states, “we must have more access to minerals, oil, gas, coal and timber” on public lands and he wants a “New Day” for public lands, including National Forests, where state and county interests gain stronger control over management. Utah also sued the Forest Service to reverse Clinton’s Roadless Rule. So it’s no surprise that coordinators of his roadless petition includes high-profile staff such as Lynn Stevens, who most recently served as the conservative San Juan County Commissioner, and is co-chair of the State RS 2477 project, which is a substantial county-rights litigation machine. Utah’s approach to its petition is generally premised on using it to prevent, or even undo, measures to protect roadless areas that are in each National Forest’s Management Plan.

Yet, some greens are clamoring for a seat at the table when we believe they should be categorically denouncing the entire process. Legitimizing an unlawful Presidential policy does far more harm than good. Occasionally, organizations and individuals differ on strategy and it is always difficult to publicly disagree with one’s peers, but this civic dialogue is requisite for a functional democracy. The UEC has a solid successful track record in predicting the outcome of such policy making. We were the only group in Utah to outline how the original Roadless Rule was more talk than action, and unfortunately we were correct. President Bush’s policy of allowing Governor’s to decide the fate of these areas will only worsen the situation.

All environmental groups must decide for themselves what position they will take. But we want UEC’s members and supporters to know why we are not participating in Governor Huntsman’s bogus ‘County rights’ roadless development petition. The harm we believe such participation will inflict on our National Forests, wildlife, federal authority, democracy, and citizen rights is substantial; we will turn to the courts for ultimate authority if necessary. UEC supports legislation that would ensure lasting, meaningful protection for our National Forests, which is why we support the Act to Save America’s Forests. Already in the House and the Senate, this Act would guarantee roadless area preservation, and would also protect additional Special Areas that are that are just as important. (See http://www.saveamericasforests.org) If anyone has any questions regarding this article, we welcome your inquiries. It is vitally important that the public understands what is at stake and the horrendous precedent that will be set if State Governor’s are allowed to dictate how our National Forest roadless areas are managed.

DENISE BOGGS is a board member of the Utah Environmental Congress and director of the Conservation Congress. She lives in Lewistown, Montana and can be reached at: denise@midrivers.com



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