Nationwide some 58 million acres (!) of roadless areas, over 4 million in Utah, will receive protection from road building and commercial logging. And, of deep importance, 100,000s of acres of the highest quality roadless lands in Utah contiguous, adjacent and immediately surrounding the High Uintas Wilderness Area will be protected. The Tongass National Forest roadless areas will receive automatic protection beginning in 2004.
This proposal, a celebration of a new century of forest management, comes not after the few years this particular proposal has been proffered and debated, but after decades and decades of battle, public support, and mounting scientific evidence of the value of roadless landscapes. It was just after the turn of the century-- the 20th, that is-- that the first voices warned of the need to protect roadless areas. By the time the Wilderness Act became law in 1964, the issue was destined to be the pivotal forest management issue in the United States. And that it became with the first national roadless review in 1970, the second in 1980, followed by stops and starts in forest planing and finally a roadless review-- this one-- with a bit of v ision and fused directly to the long battles often ignored for the last 100 years!
There are naysayers--the obvious ones with the same tired rhetoric of "roadless and wilderness and undeveloped areas are evil and bad and represent a step backward," and some within our own conservation community who see the decision as still reasonably hollow. A panacea is what was sought by both sets of naysayers.
And it isn't that. This has been a long path-- still incomplete-- but the path selected, to borrow rather inartistically from Robert Frost, is the right one. The problem with national level directives like this is that they can only go so far and will go there, always, with a bit of schizophrenia. Like it or not, change comes, even in the most successful actions in often disjunct and unpredictable strides, frequently independent of the agents of change. This is a meaningful gait... when and how the others will come, nobody is sure!
And one of those problems remains mineral leasing--oil and gas, for example. While the preferred alternative is explicit in its statements that road construction shall not be allowed in roadless for exploration where leases do not exist, there is, however, neatly and quietly tucked into the four volume/ 1000 page document a possible exception that may or may not be applied when the final rule is approved (mid-December) that allows road construction for mineral leasing activities. This could have a significant effect on portions of the roadless North Slope of the Uintas that are presently unleased. Thus the importance that the forest plan must clearly and succinctly state there will be no leasing on the North Slope roadless landscapes!
So, indeed, not all issues have been properly confronted but the celebration must be in a new direction.
And therein lies another meaningful issue as well. Congress has numerous avenues for dismantling this policy; many have suggested if the new President (as of this writing still undetermined) doesn't take it on and apart, Congress will try. Stay tuned...