The Bush Administration didn’t like the Clinton-era protections for roadless areas in national forests, calling them an “inflexible one-size-fits-all approach.” Instead, the Bush Administration asked each state’s governor for a recommendation on national forest roadless areas in their state.
North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina were the first states to take Bush up on the offer. Their request: reinstate the roadless area protections.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley put together a study committee that included a variety of interested parties from loggers to environmentalists to shape his recommendation on the roadless areas. In March, Easley announced his recommendation to reinstate roadless area protections.
“These forest areas are vital not only for their natural beauty and the recreational opportunities they offer, but also for their environmental benefits, including providing clean water and wildlife habitat,” Easley said. “They are unique places of unspoiled wilderness and beauty and must be protected and preserved.”
A roadless area advisory committee was charged with reviewing the governors’ recommendations. The committee approved Easley’s recommendation in May and sent it on to the federal government for final approval. Last week, the federal government accepted the recommendation along with those of Virginia and South Carolina. Next, the state will have to work with local forest service districts to write a management plan that reinstate the roadless area protections.
“The path may be unnecessarily long and winding, but the people of the Southern Appalachians are being heard — they hold their roadless areas dear and want them protected, so protect them already!” said Mark Shelley, director of Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition. “Now, it will be up to the Forest Service to uphold this request.”
Easley also cautioned that the federal approval of his request to protect roadless areas is not official until the local forest service districts include those protections in their management plans.
“I am pleased that North Carolina is among the first states to have its
petition accepted, but this is only a first step in protecting these roadless national forest areas in North Carolina from development,” Easley said in a press release regarding the roadless area protections. “We look forward to joining with the National Forest Service representatives to expeditiously work toward putting permanent rules in place so these lands remain unspoiled for future generations.”
Not everyone is pleased about roadless area protections.
Steve Henson, director of the Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council based in Waynesville, represents the timber industry and spoke against an outright ban on road building and logging in roadless areas.
“It is our view that the one-size-fits-all approach advocated by these petitions has no place in natural resource management,” Henson told the roadless area advisory committee during a hearing on North Carolina’s request.
Henson said forests left to nature’s devices do not always make for healthy forests but instead need management and oversight by man.
“There is no appreciation for the fact that the natural resources in question are dynamic and will change through time, with or without active management,” Henson said in his testimony.
Henson posed the question “How much ‘wilderness’ is enough?” and concluded “We have enough at the present time.”
The vast majority of public comments were in favor of seeing roadless areas in the region protected.
Roadless area protections began in 2001 following an extensive, three-year public process initiated by the Clinton Administration. More than 600 public hearings were held across the country generating 1.4 million comments — 96 percent of which called for roadless areas to be permanently protected. Comments from the Southern Appalachians specifically showed 97 percent in favor of protecting the roadless areas.
When the Bush Administration decided to lift the roadless area protections, the public comment process was far less comprehensive, allowing a 120-day window to submit written comments and no public hearings.
Environmentalists complained about the process, which called on individual states to make decisions about national forests that belong to the entire nation, not one state in particular.
A dispute has arisen in Oregon over a logging proposal in a roadless area of the national forest. A portion of the forest burned, and the logging proposal would salvage trees that were left. It would require road building to get into the area, however, and burned forests left alone have been found to rejuvenate faster and better than those that are logged for salvage timber. The governor of Oregon, who has come out against the sale, questioned the sincerity of the Bush Administration’s request for recommendations from governors if it goes ahead despite his objections.
“Opening this particular roadless area to salvage logging now — when we are in the process of preparing a petition to the federal government on the proper management of those areas — contradicts the assurances the Bush Administration has made that the governors’ opinions on such issues will be respected,” Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said.