From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 7 - May 12, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

New roadless rule adopted

by Cat Urbigkit

Last Thursday, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced a final rule that invites input from state governors in the conservation and management direction for inventoried roadless areas within national forests. This rule will provide environmental benefits and help to ensure that the needs of local communities are considered in roadless area conservation, according to the agency.

Johanns said, "USDA is committed to working closely with the nation's governors to meet the needs of our local communities while protecting and restoring the health and natural beauty of our national forests."

The new rule was developed after a federal court, which deemed it in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act, struck down the previous regulation, issued in 2001.

The rule sets a straight-forward, collaborative path toward conserving inventoried roadless areas by working with the states on regulations specific to the needs and requirements of each state. It incorporates the agency's five conservation principles for inventoried roadless areas:

Make informed decisions to ensure that inventoried roadless area management is implemented with reliable information and accurate mapping, including local expertise and experience.

Work with states, tribes, local communities and the public through a process that is fair, open and responsive to local input and information.

Protect forests to ensure that the potential negative effects of severe wildfire, insect and disease activity are addressed.

Protect communities, homes and property from the risk of severe wildfire and other risks on adjacent federal lands.

Ensure that states, tribes and private citizens who own property within inventoried roadless areas have access to their property as required by existing law.

The rule allows governors to petition the secretary of agriculture to develop regulations to manage roadless areas that meet the specific needs within each state. USDA will accept state petitions from governors for 18 months after the effective date of the final rule. During the state-petitioning process, the Forest Service will continue to maintain interim measures to conserve inventoried roadless areas. Petitions must identify areas for inclusion and may also include ways to protect public health and safety, reduce wildfire risks to communities and critical wildlife habitat, maintain critical infrastructure (such as dams and utilities) and ensure that citizens have access to private property.

Once a state has submitted its petition and the secretary accepts it, the Forest Service will work with the state to develop and publish a subsequent state-specific rule that addresses the management requirements set forth in the petition. The state-specific rulemaking process will include any required National Environmental Policy Act analysis and invite public input during a notice and comment period. If a state chooses not to file a petition, inventoried roadless areas within that state will continue to be managed in accordance with the direction set forth in each national forest's land and resource management plan.

The new rule received mixed reviews in Wyoming.

Governor Dave Freudenthal was less than enthusiastic: "I'm frankly not surprised by this announcement. It's been clear from the outset that the Forest Service was determined to proceed with its proposal. Forest planning is an inherently dynamic process, but these new rules give the states a one-time shot and Wyoming has neither the staff nor the data to make that a fair shot. Even if we did, any petition we make still goes back through the forest-planning process, which, in the end, simply returns the decision to the forest supervisor, who can incorporate, disregard or modify the state's petition."

Freudenthal called the new rule "a cosmetic attempt to appear to act without any real change." He continued: "This is really a costly exercise in futility for the states and a mechanism for the Forest Service to deflect political pressure. I frankly wish they would have spent their efforts on making the planning process more effective and efficient for the average citizen rather than adding another layer."

In contrast, Senator Craig Thomas was pleased with the new rule. In a press release, Thomas said, "The rule gives states a greater role in managing roadless areas - and that's an important consideration, especially in states that have a large amount of federal land."

Thomas said the rule "helps right the wrong of the Clinton Administration's attempt to circumvent local management of federal roadless areas."

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