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This Page Updated 01/04/2002   

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Summary of Long Term Roads Policy Focus Groups

General Issues Identified - Tentative Policy Statement - New - Unneeded - Existing - Prioritization - Unroaded Areas

For a copy of the entire Focus Group document, please contact Heidi Valetkevitch with the Forest Service Office of Communication in Washington, D.C., at 202-205-0914.

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 public lands.

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 sessions.

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 comments.

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General Issues Identified

  • 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.

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Tentative Policy Statement

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 participants.
  • 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.

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New Roads

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 planning process.

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Unneeded Roads

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 "unneeded."
  • 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 decommissioning them.

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Existing Roads

Regarding existing roads, feedback on a tentative outcome statement of "Aggressively upgrade and maintain the most needed roads" included the following:

  • 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.

Prioritization of Roads

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 unneeded roads.

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Unroaded Areas

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 stakeholder groups.

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.

Prepared By: BBC Research & Consulting
3773 Cherry Creek N. Drive, Suite 701
Denver, Colorado 80209
(303) 321-2547

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