In November 2000, The Forest Service released the Roadless Area Conversation
Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). These rules were adopted
in an attempt to protect the 58.5 million acres or 31% of all of National
Forest System (NFS) lands from development. The FEIS documents a decision
to "Prohibit Road Construction, Reconstruction and Timber Harvest Except
for Stewardship Purposes Within Inventoried Roadless Areas."
In general, the public supports protection of these lands. A large
number of comments received through the rulemaking process supported
protection. In a recent Idaho survey, 66% of the respondents supported
protection of the Roadless Areas. However, a number of organizations
have challenged the Forest Service decision. The primary arguments are
not a conflict between protection and exploitation but a disagreement
on the specific actions that are necessary to provide appropriate protection
to these areas.
In 1972, the Forest Service began the first review of NFS Roadless
Areas. This study was known as the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation
(RARE) process. The intent within the agency, at that time, was to
identify areas that met the criteria and then make a determination
of which areas qualified for inclusion in the Wilderness Preservation
One of the criteria, in this 1972 process, for inclusion of an area
in the roadless inventory was that primitive roads would be ignored
unless they were constructed or maintained with mechanical equipment.
Initially, this did not represent a significant problem because of
the plan to review each area for evidence of mans impact on the landscape
prior to making a Wilderness suitability determination. Old, historic
roads that had recovered to the point of being virtually unnoticeable
could be included within Wilderness while other roads that were still
being used or clearly showed evidence of mans activity would be excluded.
The problems with this criterion surfaced later after the Forest Service
had made their Wilderness recommendations to Congress. There was strong
disagreement from the Wilderness advocates over the areas that were
not recommended for Wilderness. In addition, the discussions surrounding
this disagreement fostered the public perception that all of these
areas were, in fact, pristine and without any roads. This was clearly
not the case.
In an attempt to reduce the controversy and conflict over the first
review, the Forest Service undertook a second review (RARE II). This
review added additional lands to the Roadless Area Inventory because
of the modification of the size criteria. The initial review was limited
to areas of 5000 acres or more while the second review included areas
of 1000 acres or more. This second review resulted in the 58.5 million
acres in the current inventory. As part of this review, the Forest
Service again made Wilderness suitability determinations. These recommendations
were again sent to Congress through the Land Management Planning process.
In the 21 years since this last review, Congress has designated some
of the areas as Wilderness and not acted on some others.
Instead of reducing the controversy surrounding Wilderness recommendations
this second review only served to expand the area under disagreement.
Wilderness advocates, using the perception that all of these areas
were pristine, pushed forward with their efforts to include all areas
as designated Wilderness without regard to the Forest Service analysis.
This controversy continues today.
The latest action by the Forest Service was an attempt to placate
the Wilderness advocates and to resolve the controversy once and for
all. As clearly evidenced by the numerous lawsuits challenging the
decision and the continued pressure to make all the areas Wilderness,
this effort was again a failure. The litigation and debate surrounding
these lands continues to deplete agency resources, restrict responsible
management and draw the discussions away from what is necessary to
truly protect the land.
History has shown that administrative action has been unable to resolve
the underlying conflict associated with these lands. It is imperative
that Congress take some specific action to put this issue to rest.
Congress needs to establish a land designation that provides the protection
the public demands for these lands while at the same time providing
the managing agencies the necessary management flexibility to respond
to recreational demands and address critical concerns of forest health,
fire prevention and wildlife habitat enhancement.
In general, most of the lands included in the Roadless Inventory
reflect an undeveloped, back country character. Evidence of mans activities
may be present and obvious to a knowledgeable observer. However, this
evidence is not dominant and the landscape is generally perceived
as possessing natural, primitive or backcountry characteristics. It
is important that these characteristics be maintained under any land
designation category established by Congress.
These lands provide a very valuable resource for recreational activities
that allow people to experience and enjoy these natural appearing
landscapes. They provide opportunities for people to escape from the
pressures of large crowds and the more developed world. This can include
a wide range of recreational activities including hunting, fishing,
hiking, horseback riding, bicycling or use of off-highway motorcycles,
ATVs and 4-wheel drive vehicles. At the same time, many of these lands
are threatened by insect and disease epidemics and by catastrophic
wildfires that could destroy the very values that the public wants
to see preserved. Therefore, it is essential that this land designation
also allow the managing agencies the ability to apply the minimum
level management to deal with these threats.
Any management activities that are planned for these areas must also
be subject to all the existing laws, regulations and policies that
address the protection of the environment as well as cultural and
historic resources. The public land management processes must also
apply to these lands. In this way the public's ability to participate
in and influence the process is preserved.
The establishment of a Congressional Back Country land designation
can achieve all of these objectives. The land will be protected and
the public will still be able to experience and understand the values
of these unique areas and the countless court cases and legal challenges
can be reduced. Congress needs to begin the process to make this new
land designation a reality.
The following is a list of desired outcomes from the identification
of Congressionally Designated Back Country. The legislation that is
drafted should include necessary wording to ensure that these results
can be achieved.
The Legislation should: