Forest Service Whiffs on Chance to Solve Two Critical Problems
Agency offers no remedy for wildlife and watersheds from oversized and decaying road
WASHINGTON-December 9. The U.S. Forest Service today chose to ignore its regulations
and pass on opportunities to address two of the most serious threats facing our
national forests-the impact of off-road vehicles (ORVs) and of our over-sized and
decaying forest roads system. Issuing new management guidelines today, the agency
provided direction on how land managers can elude existing safeguards rather than
comply with them.
“We could not be more disappointed with today’s announcement,” said Vera Smith, the
director of the recreation planning program for The Wilderness Society. “The
conservation community has worked diligently with the Forest Service over the past
three years to make this process a success for everyone.”
With only two months to go before the end of the Bush Administration, the Forest
Service announced how it will decide where and how motor vehicles such as
all-terrain vehicles and hummers can drive on this nation’s forests and grasslands.
In issuing the final directives on road and motorized trail planning, the Bush
Administration declared its intention not to address the serious impacts occurring
every day to our wildlife and watersheds from off-road vehicles driving on a bloated
and decaying road system. Experts have long agreed that these types of decisions
about where roads exist and how they can be used are integral to the health of our
nation’s rivers, fish, and wildlife.
In 2005, former Chief Dale Bosworth declared the Forest Service’s intention to address
damage to wildlife, watersheds and other forest resources stemming from unmanaged
motorized recreation. The Forest Service undertook a four-year initiative to end
cross-country driving and designate the roads and motorized trails available for public
use in all national forests and grasslands. This initiative complemented a previous
effort started in 2001 that called for each national forest to identify its minimum road
system and routes that need to be decommissioned.
In concert, the two initiatives, when issued, demonstrated a commitment by the
Forest Service to provide recreational opportunities while finally trying to get a
handle on its oversized and decaying road system. The initiatives are also meant to
strike a balance between motorized recreation and a more natural experience for hikers,
mountain bikers, hunters, and anglers.
The final guidance issued today attempts to relieve individual forests and
grasslands of their duty, integral to the route designation process, to identify
which roads are unneeded, environmentally damaging, or should be decommissioned.
Equally disturbing, the guidance exempts the vast majority of forests and grasslands
from even having to follow the now-eviscerated process. Specifically, any national
forest or grassland that has already started a travel plan, no matter how recently,
is now exempt from having to apply a science-based analysis to its road and
motorized trail system before it makes a decision.
As a result, national forests will continue to be plagued unnecessarily with
oversized, decaying, and fiscally draining road systems, and our wildlife and rivers
will continue to pay the price. This midnight hour action is especially disturbing
in light of the economic crisis; currently the Forest Service is only able to
maintain about 20 percent of its road system nationwide and has an ever-growing
backlog of deferred road maintenance of an estimated $10 billion.
“The Forest Service directives are supposed to instruct employees how to implement
the regulations, not how to avoid them,” concluded Matt Dietz, an ecologist
stationed in The Wilderness Society’s California/Nevada regional office.