ROADLESS RULE ROLLER COASTER
The tumultuous ride of roadless management continues. Late in September the U.S. District Federal Court in San Francisco threw out the Bush administration’s roadless petition rule (see HUPC LYNX, 6/05, 2/06) and essentially reinstated the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule—RACR. (For a reasonably complete history of the roadless rules and the subsequent roller coaster, see HUPC LYNX, 12/99, 4/00, 12/00, 2/01, 4/01, 10/03, 12/03, 8/04, 6/05, 2/06). For the time being, some fifty million acres of roadless areas in the lower ‘48, all Forest Service identified roadless areas, are at least partially protected from notable impacts due to commercial timber sales and road building (oil and gas leasing can continue as long as road access is prohibited). The 55 page ruling noted in depth that the Bush proposed roadless petition rule allowing governors to petition to the Forest Service that specific roadless areas under specific state rules be protected or not was adopted without proper review and analysis.
Only a lonely and lost hermit believes this is the end of the roadless roller coaster, although the recent elections may alter the ride a bit! The Department of Agriculture is considering an appeal—again, that may change as a result of the elections. The RACR allows for considerable wiggle room as it is allowing for some timber sales under the guise of forest health, and other actions in the name of public safety and road access to leases prior to 2000 so roadless areas are not fully protected anyway.
Furthermore, the roadless petition process still exists in some fog-like process under the Administrative Procedures Act which allows petitions for regulatory change. And it is important to understand the District Court’s ruling did not prohibit the reinstatement of the old petition rule; it just stated that the rule was initiated without proper environmental review/analysis.
So what does all of this mean?
Governor Huntsman’s administration has turned most public land issues over to his office of Public Lands Policy Coordination. That office told us early in September that it was still not sure whether a roadless petition would be developed. Hardly truthful, because a few weeks later we were invited to provide input to a synopsis of the roadless petition and given only 2-3 weeks to do so! (See HUPC Roadless Petition Alert, 9/06.) No other public announcements were made about the process or the availability of the synopsis and public comment! In this issue we have analyzed the petition synopsis in more detail.
The Wasatch-Cache National Forest roadless areas will now fall under the RACR rather than the 2003 forest plan allocations which, in fact, protected very few roadless areas and allocated much of the North Slope of the Uintas to potential timber management.
While the Ashley National Forest has just started its formal forest planning process, it has early on dismissed wilderness potential (see HUPC LYNX, 8/06). At least under the RACR, Ashley roadless areas will gain some protection for the forest’s relentless history of timber harvesting and road building.