THE LYNX THE ROADLESS RULE: What It Means for the Uintas
As we noted in the December 2000 LYNX, the long awaited Roadless Area Conservation Final Environmental Impact Statement was released and improved. All that was needed to finalize the process was a final rule issued by the Secretary of Agriculture and published in the Federal Register.
And that we got on 12 January. Some changes were made: "The Final Rule would not affect road construction for exploration or development of leasable minerals that are presently leased, or where leases are immediately renewed or reissued for lands currently under lease in inventoried roadless areas. The lessee would be required to start the process for issuance of a new lease prior to the expiration of the existing lease. Such road construction and reconstruction must be conducted in a manner that minimizes effects on surface resources, prevents unnecessary or unreasonable surface disturbance, and complies with all applicable lease requirements, land and resource management plan direction, regulations, and laws. Roads constructed or reconstructed in inventoried roadless areas must be obliterated when no longer needed for the purposes of the lease or upon termination or expiration of the lease, whichever is sooner. Leasable minerals include oil, gas, coal, geo-thermal, and phosphates."
What is leased can continue to be leased and accessed under standard leasing terms. What isn't leased can't be leased with a standard access stipulation--no roads will be allowed. The impacts are clear-- leasing in the Main Fork can continue-- the Forest Service still has the discretion to say no for environmental reasons. This is disappointing but expected. Since most of the North Slope roadless area is unleased (see HUPC Newsletter, 2/98), there exists a future of some hope!
But is the Final Rule indeed final? Not yet and the horizon is murky.
What the President gives, the President can take. President Clinton gave us a legacy, some say, of this roadless conservation rule. And he did, but much of that legacy also belongs to the Forest Service as it has struggled to define itself with a meaningful conservation paradigm. President Clinton waited just a bit too long because by the time this process started it assured a decision late in his term. And late it was. The final rule was adopted by the Forest Service on 5 January printed in the Federal Register on 12 January.
President GWBush, the winner of an election by a 5-4 vote margin, on his first day in office immediately after his inauguration rescinded most of the Clinton regulations not yet printed in the Federal Register and delayed the effective date of those regulations by 60 days that were printed in the Federal Register but had not yet taken effect-- the roadless rule.
Furthermore, some of those bastions of bipartisanship in Congress have proposed to utilize a never- before-used piece of legislation, The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), ironically signed into law by none other than Bill Clinton, to permanently end the roadless rule!
In essence, SBREFA (a typically convoluted piece of modern legislation) allows Congress to also postpone a major final rule for 60 days (the roadless rule has been determined by the Office of Management and Budget to be a major rule) and then by a simple majority vote enact a resolution of disapproval which affirms that the rule "shall have no force or effect." If both the Senate and House pass a resolution of disapproval and President GWBush signs it into law, the roadless rule, for example , would be null and void and it would prohibit the agency from subsequently adopting a rule that is "substantially the same."
So where are we, really? In spite of this and pending litigation by the Blue Ribbon Coalition (ATV/ORV), it will be difficult to rescind this rule. About 1.7 million comments, most of them supportive, came into the Forest Service over the year long rulemaking process.
THIS IS NOT A PANACEA! RATHER THAN OPPOSING IT FOR THAT REASON, AS SOME HAVE, WE MUST FULLY AND FINALLY RECOGNIZE THAT NATIONAL LEVEL RULES OF THIS MAGNITUDE ALWAYS COME UNFINISHED AND WITH A BIT OF SCHIZOPHRENIA. THEY ARE A CLEAR AND CONCISE REMINDER THAT IF WE CARE ABOUT THE BOLLIES, THE TIMBERED SOUTH SLOPES OF THE UINTAS, THE MAIN FORK, THE UNTOUCHED BOUNDARY CREEK, THE UNMATCHED WILDNESS OF THE MIDDLE FORK OF THE BLACKS FORK OR ANY OTHER ROADLESS AREA ON THE WASATCH MTS. OR BEAR RIVER RANGE, WE MUST DIRTY OUR PAWS, SO TO SPEAK, AND JOIN THE FRAY RIGHT HERE WITH THE FOREST PLAN REVISION (see HUPC LYNX 10/2000, for example). IN THE END IT WILL BE THE LEVEL OF SUPPORT, THE PASSION OF YOUR WILD VOICES , THAT WILL DETERMINE WHAT ROADLESS AREAS WILL BE PROTECTED. THE ROADLESS AREA CONSERVATION PROPOSAL IS A START, NOT EVEN CLOSE TO AN END.