Obama Keeps Roads Out of National Forests — For Now

Paved roads are a fact of life in most of the country, but should they
be permitted in the nation’s protected forest areas? The Obama
administration says no, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack affirmed
today in a directive that prohibits road construction in nearly 50 million acres of forest land.

copper_river_highway_10404.jpgAlaska’s Copper River Highway runs through forest land. (Photo: alaska-in-pictures.com)

As the Associated Press reports,
the most immediate impact of Vilsack’s move will come in Alaska, where
the Tongass National Forest was poised for a road-building project
linked to new logging. But preserving roadless forests is a hot issue
all across the west, particularly in California, where Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger (R) has sought to keep roads out of three national forests that are close to the Los Angeles metro area.

It’s
important to note, though, that Vilsack’s directive is only in place
for a year — meaning that roadless forests won’t be assured protection
unless Congress steps in to pass the bills sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).

And for anyone wondering whether keeping roads out of forests is a local issue, check out the Forest Service’s list of pavement-free zones in each state. You may be surprised to know how many protected areas there are.

  • marcos

    Forest service roads are generally not paved, just bulldozed into the hillside, at least in the American west.

    These roads are used by private companies for logging pursuant to federal entitlements, and once a roaded slope has been clearcut, the combination of lack of vegetation and road cut leads to rampant erosion and destruction of riparian areas.

    Wilderness areas are generally defined as lands further than a certain distance of a road.

    Coincidentally, I was reading a wiki article about the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in preparation for our trip to Utah next week, where it was claimed that the Kaiparowits Plateau in the GSENM was the largest contiguous roadless area in the lower 48 and came across the FS roadless website on Wednesday. Small web. My recollection was that the Frank Church River of No Return WIlderness in Idaho is larger, and a quick trip to wolframalpha.com conformed my suspicions.

    If you’ve never seen, heard or felt the vibrations of a wild, undammed river flowing, check out the Salmon River at the margin of the FCRONW near Dixie ID, where you can look out at the largest contiguous roadless area in the lower 48.

    See: 45°24’14.27″N , 115°31’39.52″W

    -marc

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