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 alloweven encouragechanges
in how national forests are managed without formal approval from
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."