USDA Forest Service
USDA Forest Service
Road Management Website
U.S. Department of Agriculture
 1400 Independence Ave., SW Washington, DC 20090 
News & Info
Public Involvement
Road Management Policy




This Page Updated 01/09/2002    

News & Information > Q&As

Fact Sheet - Statistics - News Releases - Questions & Answers - Speeches & Testimony

Note: These Q&As are based on the best information available to the Forest Service as of March 1, 2000.  We will update these Q&As and post subsequent versions as new information is available.

List of Questions

Background | General | Economic/Financial Considerations | Effects on Access and Recreation | Analysis process | Effects on local planning and decisionmaking | Unroaded Areas


1. What is the Forest Service Road System?

The National Forest Road System consists of more than 380,000 miles of roads. The types of roads range from permanent, double-lane, paved highways to single-lane, low-standard roads intended only for use by high-clearance vehicles, such as pickup trucks. At this time, a significant portion of this system is closed or use-restricted to protect resources.

2. What is the purpose of the Forest Service Road System?

Although the majority of forest roads were constructed to facilitate timber harvesting, today the Forest Service Road System constitutes an important component of the Nation's rural road system. It provides access for resource protection and for commercial activities or public uses such as timber harvesting, recreation outfitting, mining, and grazing. In addition, the system provides access for recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, skiing, bird watching, camping, hiking, and driving for pleasure.

3. What changes have occurred in the uses of the Forest Service Road System over the last 10-15 years?

Annual recreation use has increased from less than 250 million Recreation Visitor Days (12 hours of on-site use by one or more persons) to more than 800 million and is projected to increase further. An estimated 1.7 million recreational vehicles travel forest roads each day. Eighty percent of this use is on 20% of the system, mostly on roads that are accessible to low-clearance vehicles. An estimated 15,000 log trucks and associated timber harvesting vehicles use forest roads each day, down from 42,000 in 1990.

4. What is the Forest Service's current maintenance backlog?

The Forest Service has a growing $8.4 billion maintenance and reconstruction backlog and receives only 20 percent of the annual maintenance funding it needs to maintain its existing 380,000+ mile road system to environmental and safety standards.

5. Are there other roads within national forests that are not a part of the Forest Service Road System?

Yes. There are authorized roads within the system that are owned and managed by States and counties as well as roads permitted to private individuals. There are also more than 60,000 miles of unclassified (unauthorized) roads on National Forest System lands that have been developed over time by users outside the forest planning process that do not meet technical standards or environmental protection standards. These unauthorized roads may present an environmental threat and a potential safety threat to users.

6. How has the Forest Service road budget changed over the last 10 years?

In 1988, the Forest Service received more than $297 million to plan, reconstruct, construct, and maintain roads. In 1998, the Forest Service received $187 million to plan, reconstruct, construct, and maintain roads. 

7. Why is there a need for a new Forest Service road management policy?

This action is needed to reflect changes in public demand and use of national forest resources; to better consider scientific information about the socio-economic environmental impacts of road construction, reconstruction, and maintenance; and to prioritize present and future management objectives consistent with available funding. This policy will help ensure: 1) the rehabilitation of ecological processes disturbed by past road construction; 2) efficient reconstruction and maintenance of Forest Service roads; 3) the construction of new roads is limited to those necessary for National Forest System resource management; and 4) that future construction, restoration, and maintenance of roads will have a minimal long-term adverse environmental impact. 

8. What are the environmental effects of road-building?

Improperly constructed roads and poor road maintenance can increase the risk of erosion, landslides, and slope failure--endangering the health of watersheds that provide drinking water to millions of Americans and critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Although today's standards are more environmentally sensitive, much of the Forest Service's road system was constructed using less environmentally-sensitive standards. Growing scientific information demonstrates that road construction and other activities in sensitive areas can allow for the entry of invasive plants and animals that threaten the health of native species, increase human-caused fire, disrupt habitat connectivity, and compromise other social and ecological values.

Top of Page


1. Does the proposed policy apply to other public or private lands?

The policy affects only roads on National Forest System lands. The policy directs the Forest Service to undertake a scientifically-based roads analysis procedure on each forest before constructing, reconstructing, or decommissioning roads. The roads analysis procedure will consider and evaluate roads on other Federal, State, county, and private lands within the analysis area and identify their relationship to the issues and concerns identified in the analysis, but will not directly affect the use of these roads. Opportunities to construct, reconstruct, and decommission both classified and unclassified roads within the analysis area will be identified with the help of the public. Decisions will be made at the local level to implement identified road management opportunities on Forest Service lands only.

2. What roads are included in the proposed policy (recreation/off-highway/snowmobile trails, unclassified roads, etc.)?

Only forest road system roads (classified) and unclassified roads are included. Travel issues associated with hiking trails, airstrips, waterways, and off-highway vehicle travel are not addressed in this policy, but should be addressed through local forest planning.

3. Will there be any new roads?

Yes. However, the emphasis of this proposed policy is: maintenance of the existing road system; decommissioning of unnecessary classified and unclassified roads after extensive analysis and public involvement at the local level; and maintenance and reconstruction of needed roads as necessary.

4. Does the proposed policy set road density standards?

No. Road density standards are most appropriately determined at the local level through forest planning. The road policy will require a science-based analysis that looks at the effects and benefits of roads within the capability of the land and therefore will provide decisionmakers with important information in which to make road density decisions. 

5. How does the policy fit with the Forest Service's Natural Resource Agenda?

The Natural Resource Agenda articulates the need to better manage the Forest Service Road System within environmental, social, and fiscal limitations. This policy provides direction that will implement that vision. 

6. How does the roadless initiative relate to this proposed policy?

They are related but separate efforts. The roadless area initiative will examine the issue of future management of inventoried roadless areas and other unroaded areas. It will address questions such as whether certain activities such as new road construction should be allowed in inventoried and uninventoried roadless areas. The proposed road management policy focuses on managing the existing road system, roads that have already been built, within budgetary and environmental constraints.

7. What's Next?

There will be a 60-day public comment period following publication of the proposed road management policy. Some national forests may also hold open houses, but no national meetings are scheduled. The Forest Service will review and analyze public comments regarding the proposed road management policy. A final policy will be published by Sept. 1, 2000. The Forest Service will collaborate with local, regional, and national stakeholders when implementing the road management policy.

Top of Page

Economic/Financial Considerations

1. How will the road policy affect payments to states (25% fund)?

Implementation of the road policy will not affect payment to states. Forest Service leadership recognizes the importance of the 25% fund and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs to small communities in forest dependent counties and States. Accordingly, the Administration is working with Congress to provide a permanent, mandatory payment to states.

2. Will socio-economic impacts to local communities be considered?

Individual national forest will employ a scientifically-based road analysis procedure to assess environmental and social issues and concerns associated with maintaining, constructing, reconstructing, and decommissioning National Forest System roads. This process will include extensive public involvement at the local level. Potential economic impacts to nearby communities as a result of local road decisions will be addressed and documented in an appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document. 

Top of Page

Effects on Access and Recreation

1. Will the policy affect access to private property?

No. Current Forest Service regulations and policy ensure access provided by statue, treaty, or pursuant to reserved or outstanding rights. 

2. How does this affect off road vehicles?

Access issues associated with off road travel will be addressed at the local level through roads analysis and forest planning. The intent of the roads policy is to provide a road system that allows for safe and efficient public use, and is economically and environmentally sound. It is not intended to limit access by off highway vehicle or other recreation users. Decisions to decommission roads will be made locally with full public involvement. The Forest Service is a multiple use agency, and it takes providing access to the National Forest System very seriously. The Forest Service will continue to work hard to ensure that its existing roads are adequately maintained, signed, mapped, and marked for public use and enjoyment. 

3. How will access rights of permittees and others be affected?

The rule will not affect access rights for existing permit holders or for projects already under contract. 

4. Will the policy encourage road-to-trail conversions?

The policy will not address road-to-trail conversions directly. It is anticipated, however, that through road analysis and local decisionmaking, some portion of the existing classified and unclassified road system may be converted to trails. 

5. Will the policy close any category of roads (classified, unclassified, etc.)?

No. The policy does not mandate the closure of specific roads. These decisions will be made at the local level. The only exception to this is that until forest plans are revised, all proposals to enter unroaded or roadless areas will require an Environmental Impact Statement with a Record of Decision signed by a Regional Forester. 

6. Will this proposed rule delay, or possibly prevent any new road construction planned by the agency? 

This proposal will not affect any new road construction or reconstruction underway at the time the policy is finalized. Any projects listed on the schedule of proposed actions (published pursuant to 36 CFR Part 215) before the policy is adopted would also be unaffected by the rule. Other road construction would be subject to the provisions of this policy.

7. Will the policy affect Treaty Rights including access to cultural properties?

No. Treaty rights and related issues will be addressed at the local level and will not be affected by this policy. 

Top of Page

Analysis process

1. Isn't the Forest Service using the best science now? What is the roads analysis procedure?

The Forest Service has historically used sound scientific practices as a basis for decisionmaking. We conducted a review of the science regarding the environmental and social impacts associated with forest roads. The findings of the review were used to assist in the development of a scientifically-based roads analysis procedure. The roads analysis procedure is designed to function across diverse landscapes, at different scales, and to result in the identification of a range of road management options/opportunities. The policy would not require a forest to use this specific analysis procedure. It does, however, cite it as the standard for comparison.

2. Under this proposed policy, how long would it take to decommission a road?

This policy itself does not close roads. This policy establishes a framework for implementing a project, watershed or forest level analysis and public process to determine and provide the Forest Road System needed for resource management, protection, and public uses of National Forest System lands as identified in forest plans. The decision to decommission a road will remain a local National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision. The time it will take to complete a roads analysis procedure will depend upon the scale of the analysis, the number of factors related to the decision, the level of public interest surrounding the decision, and available funding. 

Top of Page

Effects on local planning and decisionmaking

1. How does the proposed road management policy relate to the revision of the National Forest Management Act regulations?

The proposed planning rule would rewrite the existing Forest Service regulations implementing the National Forest Management Act. The proposed NFMA planning rule and proposed road management policy provide a consistent approach to addressing important issues facing our national forests and grasslands. For example, under the proposed road management policy, the Forest Service will use extensive public involvement and a scientifically based roads analysis procedure to help land managers and the public identify unneeded roads to be decommissioned. This is consistent with the themes collaboration and integrating science in the proposed NFMA planning rule. The proposed road policy, when finalized, will fit within the planning framework established by the planning rule.

2. How and when can I provide input?

Input on proposed policy: 

There will be a 60-day public comment period following publication of the proposed road management policy. Some national forests may also hold open houses, but no national meetings are scheduled. The purpose of the open house will be to provide you a forum for clarifying questions including how to submit your comments. Check with your local Forest Service office for this information. 

Input on Local Decisions:

The proposed road management policy emphasizes the importance of local decisionmaking. Forest users will be able to provide input at the local level as the forest implements the steps required under the rule. Most road decisions will be made locally. 

3. Where should I send my comments on the proposed policy?

You may submit comments in writing to CAET-USFS, Attention: Roads Project, P.O. Box 22300, Salt Lake City, UT 84122. You may also send comments electronically through roads/ or by fax at (801) 517-1021.

4. How does the road management policy affect forests that have completed Access and Travel Management plans?

The policy would apply to all Forests. Forests that have completed access and travel management plans will need to ensure that the plans have incorporated the components of a scientifically-based roads analysis procedure in their planning. If not, then the forest needs to do that before road decisions can be implemented.

5. Are any forests exempted, such as those with recently revised forest plans, like the Tongass National Forest, or those covered by the Northwest Forest Plan? 

No. The transition language applies to all forests. A forest must revise its forest plan using a process that embraces a scientifically-based roads analysis procedure at the appropriate scale before new roads could be built in roadless or unroaded areas. Forest plans that include an appropriately scaled, scientifically-based roads analysis procedure would be in compliance with this direction and could move forward with road building in roadless and unroaded areas as appropriate, and subject to Regional Forester approval. However, the Tongass National Forest may constitute a special situation. The Regional Forester has authority to determine that a compelling need exists in seeking to meet market demand for timber, to the extent consistent with providing for the multiple use and sustained yield of all renewable forest resources, pursuant to the Tongass Timber Reform Act (1990) and all other applicable laws.

6. Will forests with recently revised forest plans have to revise their plans again to accommodate the findings of the roads analysis procedure?

Not necessarily. All forests must complete the roads analysis process. If the plans revised after Jan. 1, 1996 are consistent with the findings of the science-based roads analysis process, amendment or revision of the plans would not be required. However, the Regional Forester, not the Forest Supervisor, must make that determination.

Top of Page

Unroaded Areas

1. Does the proposed road management policy require a Roadless Area Review & Evaluation (RARE III)?

No, this proposed policy focuses on managing roads in roaded areas. 

2. Will the road policy create new unroaded areas?

Unroaded areas of various sizes already exist throughout the National Forest System. The policy itself will not create any more.

3. Will there be new roads in unroaded areas? 

Possibly. The emphasis of this policy is on managing the existing road system. The intended outcome would be that fewer new roads will be built; unnecessary classified and unclassified roads would be decommissioned after extensive public involvement and analysis at the local level; and needed roads would be maintained and reconstructed if necessary. The need for a road in an unroaded area will be determined through a road analysis procedure. A proposal to build a road in an unroaded area will be analyzed in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) either through the Forest Plan revision process or as a separate Record of Decision. The Record of Decision for such an action will require the Regional Forester's signature and approval. 

4. Will recreation be altered in any way? Specifically, will this policy reduce or eliminate motorized and mechanical uses of these areas? Will hunting or any other recreational use be curtailed?

No. Decisions to build new roads and to decommission roads will be made after conducting an extensive science-based analysis and public involvement process at the local level. 

5. Will the policy allow for relocation of existing roads, which now constitute a boundary for roadless area(s) if such a relocation is desirable for environmental, safety reasons, or to enhance visitor experience?

Yes. Subject to provisions of this policy, management opportunities identified as a result of a completed roads analysis procedure may include such items as road relocation to reduce or eliminate environmental and safety concerns.

6. Will the Forest Service use the forest plan maps of unroaded areas, or look at what is really on-the-ground? 

The science-based road analysis procedure when completed at the appropriate scale, will use maps and include a comprehensive field-level inventory of all roads, classified, and unclassified. 

Top of Page


Home | Documents | Links | News & Info | Public Involvement | Road Management Policy | Privacy Statement & Disclaimer