The key criterion for identifying potential wilderness is an area that “generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable” (Planning Handbook Ch. 70). A new report from the Friends of the Clearwater alleges that the Forest Service is degrading the wilderness potential of existing roadless areas over time by logging them, using exceptions provided by the regulations governing management of roadless areas, such as reducing fire risk.
Since 2008, “Across Idaho, the Forest Service reported roadless logging in preliminary numbers ranging up to 18,000 acres of roadless areas.” In Montana, “The Forest Service disclosed preliminary figures, enumerating that it authorized approximately 33,000 acres of roadless logging from 2010 to 2018.”
Also according to the report:
“When the Forest Service revises forest plans, we found a pattern where the agency drops isolated acreage from its roadless inventory and wilderness-recommendation process due to evidence of timber harvest. The Forest Service Handbook directs the agency to identify a basic potential-wilderness inventory; the agency can include areas where logging has occurred if improvements are not substantially noticeable. The Forest Service will also use this criterion to update its roadless inventory. In two different forest plans, the Forest Service dropped the roadless acres where timber harvest had occurred because at the time of review, those portions of roadless areas did not meet the criteria for potential wilderness or espoused roadless characteristics.”
This article includes a link to the report, and includes an example of a project that has led to recent litigation.
Utah is attempting a more direct approach: modifying the regulations governing roadless areas for their state, including eliminating protections for some areas. While road construction is generally not allowed in roadless areas under the existing regulations, Utah would like more roads to reduce fire risk, a contention countered here.