DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE
36 CFR Part 212
Administration of the
Forest Development Transportation System
notice of proposed rulemaking.
Forest Service proposes to revise the regulations concerning
the management of the National Forest System transportation
system to address changes in how the road system is
developed, used, maintained, and funded. The existing road
system on National Forest System lands was largely funded
and constructed to develop areas for timber harvesting and
the development of other resources. In the last two decades,
interest in the appropriate uses of the resources of the
national forests, as well as the costs associated with
resource development, including road-building, has generated
much public debate. At the same time, resource uses on the
national forests have shifted substantially toward
recreation. The agency believes this is an appropriate time
to consider changes in public opinion, public demand, and
public use of national forest resources in the context of
the accumulated body of scientific information about the
benefits and environmental impacts of roads, and to consider
adjustments in the management of the forest road system to
respond to these changes and, thus, better serve present and
future management objectives in a more efficient manner.
Public comments on the scope and nature of a proposed
revision of the Forest Services road management policy are
invited. The agency will consider all comments in developing
the proposed rule.
must be received in writing by 30 March 1998.
30 MARCH 1998
ADDRESSES: Send written comments to: Gerald (Skip)
Coghlan, Acting Director, Engineering Staff, Forest Service,
USDA, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090-6090, and also
at firstname.lastname@example.org on the Internet.
All comments, including
names and addresses when provided, are available for public
inspection and copying. Persons wishing to inspect the
comments are encouraged to call ahead (202-205-1400) to
facilitate entrance into the building.
INFORMATION CONTACT: Gerald (Skip) Coghlan, Acting
Director, Engineering Staff, 202-205-1400.
The road system on
National Forest System lands is extensive and diverse. It
includes an estimated 373,000 miles of inventoried forest
system roads. These roads are essential for the active
management of the resources of the National Forests. They
carry an estimated 9,000 Forest Service administrative
vehicles daily throughout the forests to duties as varied as
wildlife habitat improvement projects, maintenance of
recreation facilities, fire suppression, law enforcement,
and search and rescue activities. National Forest System
roads also carry an estimated 15,000 vehicles daily that are
associated with timber harvesting and the development of
Roads are also essential
for public use and enjoyment of the National Forests and
Grasslands. The agency estimates that 1.7 million vehicles
involved in recreation travel forest roads every day, an
increase of over 10 times since 1950.
In addition to the
373,000 miles of inventoried system roads, there are 60,000
miles of roads which exist on National Forest System lands,
created by repeated public use, that are not managed or
maintained by the agency or considered part of the forest
Public use and demands on
national forest resources have shifted considerably during
the past 10 years. There has been a decrease in timber
harvesting and other commodity uses and steadily-increasing
growth in the amount and type of recreation uses. The shift
in public use and associated changes in user expectations
and access needs requires new approaches to deciding the
appropriate size and configuration of the road system. In
addition, current funding mechanisms and levels are not
adequate to maintain roads to the standards originally
planned, to assure minimum ecological impacts, as well as to
ensure efficient and safe use. Thus, the agency needs to
explore new sources of dependable funding as well as ways to
better manage roads with limited resources.
The accumulation of new
scientific information is increasing the understanding of
the ecological and social impacts of existing roads, new
construction of roads in roaded and roadless areas, and the
impacts of the management activities associated with
maintaining and reconstructing roads. New developments in
road-building technology have fewer negative ecological
impacts; however, ecological impacts from existing roads are
more extensive than previously thought. For example, under
some conditions, existing roads may cause increased
frequency of flooding and landslides, increased stream
sedimentation, and associated reductions in fish habitat
productivity. There may also be concerns associated with the
fragmentation and degradation of habitat for some wildlife
species caused by roading, as well as reductions in travel
corridors of species with large home ranges. Research also
indicates that under some circumstances, roading may begin
or accelerate the invasion of exotic plant species that
ultimately displace native species.
In addition to the
impacts of road-building and roads themselves, there are
impacts associated with the increased levels of human
activities in previously-inaccessible areas provided by new
roads. For example, increases in visitor-use have associated
resource impacts, including ground and habitat disturbance,
increased pressure on wildlife species from hunters and
fishers, and increased expectations for amenities. Also,
increases in human access may be associated with increases
in the frequency of person-caused fires. A more detailed
listing of facts related to the nature and scope of the
National Forest Road System, public demand, funding, and
environmental impacts of roads are published as Appendix A
at the end of this notice.
The shifts in resource
demands and public use coupled with the need to ensure that
decisions associated with the location, design,
construction, reconstruction, upgrading, decommissioning,
and maintenance of roads are informed by current scientific
information lead the Forest Service to conclude that it must
thoroughly review its road management policy and develop a
comprehensive science-based policy for the future. This
policy should allow the Forest Service to balance scientific
information, public needs and funding levels when
determining the size, purpose, and extent of the future
forest road transportation system and any specific road
building activities. The following are among the expected
outcomes and key features of such a long-range policy:
1. Roads will be removed
where they are no longer needed, and ecological values will
be rehabilitated and restored in formerly-roaded areas.
These outcomes will be accomplished by aggressively
decommissioning unneeded roads to reduce adverse
2. Roads most heavily
used by the public will be safe and will promote efficient
travel. These outcomes will be accomplished by aggressively
updating roads (reconstruction, design and maintenance) and
reducing environmental impacts in these areas.
3. New roads that are
determined necessary for National Forest System management
will be designed more carefully to minimize ecological
damage, and limited funds will be spent appropriately. These
outcomes will be achieved by carefully analyzing factors
surrounding the decision to build new roads in roaded areas,
as well as the decision to build new roads in roadless
areas, to assure that managers make more informed decisions
and that only necessary construction is taking place.
The agency invites
comments and suggestions on procedures for improving
management of the national forest road system.
Several research efforts
are underway to examine the National Forest road system and
its uses; to synthesize scientific information on Forest
Service roads; and to analyze attitudes towards roads as
expressed in the news media. Drafts of these reports are
available from Director, Pacific Northwest Research Station,
P.O. Box 3890, Portland, OR 97208-3890,
503-808-2100 and also at email@example.com
on the Internet.
An essential element of
this comprehensive overhaul of forest road policy is to
develop improved analytical tools for land managers and
resource specialists. To that end, agency researchers and
specialists are developing an improved analysis process that
assures that the ecological, social, and economic impacts of
proposed construction and reconstruction of National Forest
System roads are objectively evaluated, and that there is a
full consideration of public demand on National Forest
System roads in the context of current scientific
information. This process will undergo an independent
technical and scientific peer review before adoption.
Until the effects of
roads can be more rigorously assessed, the Forest Service is
also proposing to issue an interim rule to temporarily
suspend road construction and reconstruction in roadless
areas for not more than 18 months. The proposed interim rule
appears in the same part of today's Federal Register with a
request for public comment and notice of the initiation of
scoping under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
Suggestions on the scope
and nature of a proposed revision of the Forest Services
road management policy, as well as comments on the agency's
preliminary suggestions are invited. The agency will
consider all comments in developing the proposed rule.
January 22, 1998
Mike Dombeck (dated)
Chief, Forest Service
Facts About the
National Forest Road System
1. The National Forest
Road System is extensive and diverse; it includes an
estimated 373,000 miles of forest roads.
a. One-fourth (23%) are
called arterial or collector roads and they serve all users,
including passenger cars.
b. Over one-half (57%)
are roads that are only passable by high-clearance vehicles
such a four-wheel drives.
c. One-fifth (20%) are
closed by gates.
d. The Forest Service has
identified an additional estimated 60,000 miles of "uninventoried
roads" that were created by repeated use but never
built or maintained to any standards. The actual number of
miles of "uninventoried roads" is likely far
greater than this estimate. There are also additional public
roads on National Forest System lands, such as state and
county roads that are typically maintained by others.
e. There are more than
7,000 bridges on forest roads, three-fourths of these are on
the arterial and collector roads.
f. In 1996, new
construction of National Forest System roads was 434 miles,
or 0.1% of the total National Forest road system.
2. Roads are essential
for public use and enjoyment of National Forests and
a. An estimated 15,000
logging trucks and vehicles associated with timber
harvesting use National Forest roads each day, about the
same number as in 1950.
b. An estimated 1.7
million vehicles associated with recreation activities
travel forest roads each day, over 10 times more than in
1950. Recreation usage is projected to continue to increase.
c. An estimated 9,000
Forest Service administrative vehicles travel forest roads
each day, conducting duties essential to the stewardship of
forest resources, including special use administration,
wildlife habitat improvement projects, maintenance and
operation of recreation facilities, law enforcement, and
3. Public use and demands
on National Forest System lands have shifted considerably
during the past 10 years. The size and composition of the
National Forest System road system has not been adjusted
a. Recreation usage has
increased from less that 250 million Recreation Visitor Days
to almost 350 million and is projected to continue to
b. Timber harvest has
dropped to below 4 billion board feet from a high of about
12 billion board feet annually.
c. The need for, and
understanding of, ecological benefits that these forest and
rangelands provide has increased, such as clean water,
wildlife habitat, and habitat for endangered species.
4. While a significant
portion of the 191,000,000 acres of the National Forest
System is roaded, a significant portion remains roadless.
a. An estimated
34,000,000 acres are currently designated as wilderness; an
estimated 6,000,000 acres are designated as proposed
wilderness in forest plans.
b. An estimated
33,000,000 acres are currently unroaded in blocks of 5,000
acres or more for which the existing forest plans have
proposed management that could include building new roads.
c. Of the 33,000,000
acres that are unroaded and available for management
activities that could include roading, an estimated
8,000,000 acres are classified as "suitable for timber
5. Current funding levels
are inadequate to maintain the roads to planned standards
that permit efficient and safe use and keep ecological
impacts at acceptably low levels.
a. About 40% of National
Forest System roads are fully maintained to the planned
safety and environmental standards for which they were
b. The backlog of
reconstruction needs on National Forest System roads is
considerable. For example, the backlog on arterial and
collector roads alone is estimated to be over $10 billion,
due to their age (three-fourths are over 50 years old) and
their lack of adequate regular maintenance.
c. From 1991 to 1996,
funding for decommissioning roads has only financed a
reduction of about 0.5% of National Forest System roads per
6. New scientific
information continues to increase our understanding of the
ecological and social impacts from existing roads and
associated management activities. In some instances,
ecological impacts from existing roads are more extensive
than previously thought. Examples of these impacts include:
increased frequency of flooding and landslides; increased
stream sedimentation and associated reductions in fish
habitat productivity; increased habitat fragmentation and
degradation which reduces the travel corridors needed by
species requiring large home ranges; increased frequency of
person-caused fires as a result of access; and invasion of
exotic species that displace native species. In contrast,
recently constructed roads that are better designed and
better located than earlier roads, and result in fewer and
less severe ecological impacts.