fedgazette

Roadless initiative is rounding first phase and headed for second

Ronald A. Wirtz - Editor, fedgazette

Published April 1, 2000  |  April 2000 issue

So what exactly is the roadless initiative?

Officially, the roadless initiative is an administrative rulemaking process coordinated by the National Forest Service to determine what to do with about 50 million acres of national forest that currently have no roads, but are not protected from future development. In essence, the process will allow—even encourage—changes in how national forests are managed without formal approval from Congress.

To date, the roadless proposal has been attacked for turning a wooden ear to local concerns and for its lack of specificity. For example, 1,000-acre roadless tracts are being targeted for protection but have yet to be mapped. (The last roadless inventory more than two decades ago only mapped 5,000-acre tracts.) One critic of the proposal believed the lack of detail created "a moving target" for opponents to address.

Part of the confusion appears to stem from the rulemaking process itself. A 60-day public comment period followed President Clinton's original announcement of the proposal in October, and was intended to be fairly generic, according to Paul Strong, a public affairs officer with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin. He said that public meetings were designed to help the agency identify information gaps and "the kinds of issues people are concerned about" to better inform the debate.

Instead, many saw the public comment period as a vote for or against the roadless initiative, Strong said. The Forest Service received about a half-million public comments, but it was "hard to say ... how many people made substantive comments," Strong said.

The Forest Service is now drafting policy and environmental impact statements. Strong said these documents will add a significant amount of information to the public debate and are scheduled to be released in May, and will be followed by a 90-day public comment period.

Final rules regarding roadless areas are slated for release by the end of the year, providing ample opportunities for meaningful public input, Strong said.

"It's very important that people not give up yet because the details are coming," Strong said. "There is plenty of time left to participate in a substantive way."

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