In Fall 1998, the USDA Forest Service
contracted with BBC Research & Consulting to conduct
focus groups with external stakeholders and Forest Service
employees to gather detailed input into the development of
the Service's long term road policy.
The purpose of the focus groups was to
better understand the views of specific interested groups,
including employees, regarding roads and transportation on
In Spring 1999, nine focus groups were
held around the country with external stakeholder groups
representing recreation, conservation and
industry/commercial interests. Three sessions were conducted
with Forest Service employees. External stakeholder
representatives were recruited at random from a master list
of key contacts provided by each Forest Service Regional
Office. A total of 111 individuals participated in the
Focus groups were audio taped and
transcribed. Transcripts were then analyzed to identify key
issues and areas of agreement and disagreement with respect
to a tentative long term roads policy statement as well as
tentative outcome statements regarding new roads, unneeded
roads and existing roads. Participants were also asked to
comment on their perceptions of how unroaded areas should be
addressed in the long term roads policy.
In addition, during the focus group
sessions, a card exercise was administered that required
participants to rank order their preferences and tradeoffs
with respect to alternative actions the Forest Service could
take on different types of roads and their relative
willingness to pay for different actions.
First we present a brief summary of
input from the focus group participants. Comments received
from external stakeholder participants were very consistent
with feedback from Forest Service employees. In the body of
the report we distinguish the external from internal
- Focus group participants struggled
with the concept of a national roads policy, given the
wide diversity among forests, districts and regions
throughout the country. Participants generally agreed
that most decisions should be made locally.
- A number of participants stated
that roads should flow out of the Natural Resource
Agenda rather than being a distinct part of the Agenda.
- In a number of sessions,
participants suggested that the Forest Service may not
have an accurate inventory of existing roads and that
this should be rectified.
- A number of participants suggested
that science and technology should be used to help make
or guide specific roads policy decisions.
- The relationship between Forest
Service roads and roads owned/maintained by private
property owners and other agencies should be considered
in the long term roads policy as well.
A tentative policy statement, drafted
by the Forest Service Roads Team, was given to the focus
group participants to respond to. The statement is,
"The Forest Service will provide the minimum forest
road system that best serves the current and anticipated
future management objectives and public uses of national
forests and grasslands, and ensure that the road system
provides for safe public use, economically affordable and
efficient management, and minimal ecological impacts."
Focus group participants responded to
the tentative policy statement as follows:
- Many participants suggested that
the tentative policy statement was too broad and general
to provide necessary guidance.
- Participants in every session had
strong reactions to the word "minimum." Some
participants supported the concept of a
"minimal" roads system, others did not.
- The phrase, "anticipated
future management objectives" does not provide an
adequate level of guidance.
- The phrase "safe public
use" was interpreted differently by different
- Some participants suggested that
ecological impacts should be moved to the beginning of
the statement to emphasize this as a priority.
- Funding to maintain roads and
guarantees of future funding is not addressed in the
tentative policy statement, but should be.
- The policy statement needs to be
defined and implemented locally, perhaps based on
specific criteria developed at the national level.
Focus group participants responded to
a tentative outcome statement regarding new roads. The
statement is "More carefully consider decisions to
build new roads."
- The tentative outcome statement,
with the word "more," implies that new roads
were not carefully considered in the past; most
participants did not believe this was true.
- The decision to build new roads
should be based on need and according to a strict set of
criteria that would be considered. It was suggested that
the criteria should be developed at a national level.
- Some suggested that the default
outcome statement with respect to new roads should be
"we aren't building any," unless some criteria
clearly demonstrate that a new road is in the best
interests of the area.
- There were frequent comments that
the Forest Service is not adequately maintaining its
existing roads system, so the agency should not be
thinking of building new roads. However, few
participants said unequivocally that there was no reason
under any circumstances to have a new road.
- Participants mentioned that the
full cost of roads, including ongoing maintenance,
should be specifically accounted for in the review and
Regarding unneeded roads, a tentative
outcome statement was to "Aggressively decommission
unneeded roads." Feedback included the following:
- Many participants questioned what
the word "aggressively" meant; many saw it as
a negative word.
- There was general confusion about
the definition of "decommission," and it was
suggested that a distinction is needed among the terms
decommission, obliterate and close.
- Many participants suggested that a
hierarchy or set of criteria be established to define
- It was suggested that local forest
users should define "unneeded" based on an
up-front goal in mind or guidance from the regional
office of forest about what the forest or region is
trying to accomplish.
- Many participants suggested that it
might do more ecological damage to decommission roads
than to leave them alone.
- Participants were in general
skeptical that decommissioning of roads would be funded.
- Some participants encouraged the
Forest Service to recognize the value of trails and
perhaps use unneeded roads as trails rather than
Regarding existing roads, feedback on
a tentative outcome statement of "Aggressively upgrade
and maintain the most needed roads" included the
- The word "upgrade" was
interpreted to mean "pave, straighten, make
wider" by many participants, who did not support
that as an outcome.
- Many participants questioned the
definition of "most needed" and wondered what
criteria would be used.
- Some debate occurred over the
priority of the use of the road versus the health of the
resource and which comes first.
Participants were asked how they might
prioritize new, unneeded and existing roads.
Most participants agreed that existing
roads should be addressed first, in concert with the most
Feedback regarding whether and, if so,
how to address unroaded areas in the long term roads policy
included the following:
- Some participants thought unroaded
areas must be addressed specifically in a long term
roads policy; others disagreed.
- There was general skepticism
expressed that the moratorium on road building would be
an interim measure. Some believed that the long term
roads policy is actually a vehicle to permanently ban
road building in unroaded areas.
As part of the focus group research, a
conjoint exercise was administered at the outset of each
focus group session. Conjoint analysis is a research tool
that allows us to require people to make choices and rank
competing alternatives. Using this method, participants are
shown different scenarios with respect to road development,
maintenance and funding each of which combines varying
levels of defined attributes. Participants are then asked to
rank order the various offers in terms of preference. By
applying conjoint analysis to the results of these rankings,
it is possible to quantify the attributes highly valued by
stakeholders, explore the trade-offs among different
attributes and identify differences in preferences among
The results of the conjoint analysis
card ranking exercise suggest several factors for the Forest
Service to consider as it proceeds with development of a
long term roads policy.
- The Forest Service serves many
diverse populations, each with differing priorities for
national forest road development and maintenance.
- About one-half of the focus group
participants oppose aggressive road development and
maintenance by the Forest Service. This segment was
named the "Anti-Aggressive" segment. Most of
the conservationist participants fit into this group.
The Anti-Aggressive segment would prefer that existing
roads are decommissioned and new roads are not built.
This group would rather pay a hypothetical $10 per use
to have roads decommissioned and no new roads built than
pay nothing and have the Forest Service aggressively
maintain existing roads and build new roads.
- About 40 percent of the focus group
participants fit into the "Don't Decommission"
segment. This segment generally represents the views of
focus group participants from industry groups. In sharp
contrast to the Anti-Aggressive group, the Don't
Decommission segment would be unhappy if existing roads
were decommissioned and new roads were not built. The
Don't Decommission segment wants the Forest Service to
build and maintain roads as needed.
- The smallest segment identified
through the analysis was the "No Fees Please"
segment. This segment included Forest Service employees,
individuals from industry and individuals from
recreation groups. No conservationists fit into this
segment. Unlike segments who were most concerned about
the action taken by the Forest Service, the No Fees
Please segment was concerned about the hypothetical use
fee. Regardless of the level of maintenance provided by
the Forest Service, the No Fees Please group would
rather not pay per use to use the Forest Service roads.
New roads are a low priority for this segment. They
would like to see the existing roads maintained and new
roads built as needed.
- No significant differences in road
maintenance priorities were found when responses were
compared by geographic region or when the responses of
employees were compared to those of external users.
- Overall, focus group participants
would prefer that maintenance be provided when needed on
existing roads. Aggressive action is not preferred.
Also, new roads and unneeded roads are not as high a
priority as existing roads.
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