Revival of the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act
On 5 June Washington Democrat Inslee and New York Republican Boehlert, along with just over 170 other member of the House of Representatives (none from Utah as of 5 June), introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act. The legislation essentially codifies the Roadless Initiative (see HUPC LYNX, 2/00, 4/00, 6/00, 6/01, 8/01, 12/01) begun in the good old days of President Bill Clinton and Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck. Nearly 60 million acres of roadless areas would be of limits to most road building and logging unless a demonstrated need exists to protect forest health, to improve habitat for endangered species or reduce fire danger. Drilling and mining activities would be allowed on extant leases and claims and all forms of recreational uses would be allowed including the use of snowmobiles and ATVs dependent upon individual forest planning decisions. While these are huge loopholes and represent serious threats to many roadless areas, and while this legislation is only on the first step of a long, snaky and steep ascent, it is a remarkable event.
But let's not get too far in front of ourselves! Introducing legislation, which still requires introduction in the Senate, even with a lot of co-sponsors, is far different than getting the same meaningful legislation, without a plethora of exemptions and special language, passed through Congress and signed by the President. And that effort, while crucial, may drag on and on, keeping our attention riveted to the national legislative adventures while forest planning at all different levels snuffs out roadless areas. The history of roadless area protection, notwithstanding the good efforts intended by this national legislation, comes from an ecological sense of place, from a personal passion and wisdom about those places, and from a triumphant voice participating in the preservation of those places. Try as we might, protection of roadless areas and wilderness is not an abstract policy issue.
The National Forest Roadless Area Conservatin Act deserves to find its way up the staircase. Meanwhile your wild voice at every level (contact your congressperson if NFRACA so moves you) is more important than ever!