USDA Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck today approved the agency’s new forest road management policy, which will rely heavily upon scientific analysis and public involvement at the local level to provide a road system that is safe, responsive to public needs, environmentally sound, affordable and efficient to manage. The policy was sent today to the Federal Register for publication.
“The new road policy will improve public access to the forests we all love while diminishing the risks of erosion and water quality degradation,” said Dombeck. “It shifts the agency’s policy from developing its transportation system to managing its transportation system in an environmentally and financially responsible way.”
The Forest Service has a mounting $8.4 billion maintenance and reconstruction backlog and receives only about 20 percent of the annual funding needed to maintain the existing 380,000-plus mile road system to environmental and safety standards.
The dramatic shift in public use of national forests over the years led the Forest Service to find a new approach to deciding the appropriate extent, use and standards for the forest road system. About 15,000 logging vehicles use forest roads daily—about the same number as in 1950. In contrast, an estimated 1.7 million vehicles travel forest roads for recreation on a daily basis, which is 10 times greater than in 1950.
“We need to work better with local people to make decisions about their forests’ local roads,” said Dombeck. “This policy will help us bring communities together to make common sense decisions in the best interest of the land about the roads we should keep, those we should close and those we may want to convert to other uses, such as walking trails.”
The policy addresses all roads over which the Forest Service has jurisdiction and sets official definitions for road management terms. In addition, the policy gives interim requirements for inventoried roadless areas and contiguous unroaded areas.
The policy is a result of an extensive public involvement process that began in January 1998 when the Forest Service announced its intent to revise its road policy. At the same time, the agency issued an interim rule that temporarily suspended road construction and reconstruction
in certain unroaded areas on national forests and grasslands. The agency received a record number of comments—more than 130,000. The interim rule gave the agency a “time out” to develop a new road management policy and analytical tools. The Forest Service received approximately 5,900 comments when it released its proposed road management policy in March. The agency is currently working on a separate policy that protects inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands.