Area Management Rule Announced
May 06, 2005
"Our actions today advance President Bush's commitment to cooperatively conserve inventoried roadless areas within our national forests," Johanns said. " USDA is committed to working closely with the nation's governors to meet the needs of our local communities while protecting and restoring the health and natural beauty of our national forests."
Alaska Governor Frank H. Murkowski on Thursday complimented the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture on their issuance of a final roadless rule and thanked them for their recognition of the importance of local input into roadless decisions. "This has been a long, controversial process for those in impacted communities," said the governor. "This new rule is an example of a good federal-state partnership and provides for better communication, cooperation, and coordination between our federal and state governments."
A decision by the U.S. Forest Service in December of 2004 finalize an out-of-court settlement with the State of Alaska and modified a Clinton-era "roadless" rule for the Tongass National Forest. That decision paved the way for a resumption of some wood harvest from the Tongass, enough to support the surviving timber industry in Southeast Alaska.
The U.S. Forest Service announced in December 2004 after reviewing thousands of public comments that it had decided to proceed with implementing an agreement it reached the summer of 2004 with the State of Alaska following a lawsuit initiated by the State of Alaska. Under the agreement the Forest Service agrees that the state was correct to protest the Clinton Administration's decision in late 2000 that locked up about 98 percent of the forest, placing it off limits to road construction and thus multiple use.
This December 2004 decision had the effect of permitting timber harvesting to resume in the Tongass on an additional 300,000 acres of the 17-million-acre forest.
The new rule was developed after the previous regulation, issued January 12, 2001, was struck down by a U.S. District Court in July 2003 and deemed in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act.
The rule sets a straightforward, collaborative path toward conserving inventoried roadless areas by working with the states on regulations specific to the needs and requirements of each state. It incorporates the department's five conservation principles for inventoried roadless areas. They are:
The final rule allows governors to petition the secretary of agriculture to develop regulations to manage roadless areas that meet the specific needs within each state. USDA will accept state petitions from governors for 18 months after the effective date of the final rule. During the state-petitioning process, the Forest Service will continue to maintain interim measures to conserve inventoried roadless areas.
Petitions must identify areas for inclusion and may also include ways to protect public health and safety, reduce wildfire risks to communities and critical wildlife habitat, maintain critical infrastructure (such as dams and utilities), and ensure that citizens have access to private property.
Once a state has submitted its petition and the secretary accepts it, the Forest Service will work with the state to develop and publish a subsequent state-specific rule that addresses the management requirements set forth in the petition. The state-specific rulemaking process will include any required National Environmental Policy Act analysis and invite public input during a notice and comment period. If a state chooses not to file a petition, inventoried roadless areas within that state will continue to be managed in accordance with the direction set forth in each national forest's land and resource management plan.
While 38 states and Puerto Rico have inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands within their boundaries, 56.6 million acres, or 97 percent, of all inventoried roadless areas in the country are contained within 12 states. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
"You can be assured that I will continue to support a viable timber industry on a sustainable yield basis," said Alaska Governor Murkowski.
Governor Murkowksi noted that this decision will bring some certainty to forest management in Alaska, facilitating social and economic development.
"Instead of management by arbitrary rules based on the size of particular areas, development can be anchored in sound science, good management and public input," said Governor Murkowski. "This will benefit all categories of forest users, from the weekend recreator to those who make their livings through responsible mining and timber harvest."
The USDA Forest Service department will also announce the establishment of a national advisory committee to provide advice and recommendations to the secretary on implementing this rule. Members of the committee will represent diverse national organizations interested in the conservation and management of National Forest System inventoried roadless areas.
The final rule and the notice announcing the establishment of the advisory committee will be published in the Federal Register this week and are available online at http://www.roadless.fs.fed.us/
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