A Decade to Determine Nothing

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The Clinton administration signed off on the Roadless Rule [PDF] in 2001 to preserve 58.5 million acres of national forest land by preventing road construction, reconstruction, and timber harvest. The lands designated for roadless protection were inventoried in the 1970s to determine their merit for inclusion into the National Wilderness system. Some are now Wilderness; the rest remain under roadless and wilderness study area protection. Over the last decade, the Roadless Rule has been challenged, appealed, promulgated, upheld, replaced, and in the latest court decision on October 21, upheld again.

Of the 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless, 24.2 prohibited road construction prior to the Roadless Rule. Of the 34.3 million acres remaining open to road construction, roads were built on less than three million acres between 1970 and 2001. Forest Service road building is declining in response to current agency policy, growing controversy, and agency multiple use goals.

The driving force behind the Roadless Rule was to protect the areas from fragmentation and move the lands into hands-off management status. There was, however, no eminent threat of road building and harvest on the land. The alternative would be to allow Forest Service managers, which are trained and educated in forest management, to manage the lands as directed by Forest Service goals and guided (and restricted) by applicable federal legislation and regulation.

Unfortunately, the management of our public lands is dictated by politics and court decisions that are slow at responding to the dynamics of nature. Between federal land regulations, legislation, and litigation, the hands of public land managers are essentially tied, but the Roadless Rule has them hog tied.

Public lands do, after all, belong to us all. By giving every one of us a say (educated on land management or not) in how they are managed we are getting non-active management — by intent, such as directed by the Roadless Rule, and default, through a continual barrage of appeals and litigation. That is exactly what some parties aim to achieve.

Originally posted at Environmental Trends.

Holly Fretwell is a Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught  introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics. She works with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, giving workshops for  high school teachers to improve their skills in teaching and...
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