Permanentizing Roadless? House Bill 279

I’m working on getting a subscription to Bloomberg Law for TSW so all I could get was this snippet.

Permanent roadless area protection is vital to preserving drinking water supplies, cutting wildfire risk, and saving Alaska’s oldest forests, Democrats said during a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

Debate centered on a bill (H.R. 279) that would codify an existing US Forest Service rule prohibiting road building across swaths of national forests nationwide—Democrats’ backlash to a Trump administration decision to lift roadless protections in Alaska. That decisions allowed logging or development across 9.3 million acres of southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Perhaps someone could post the rest of the story?  I happen to have spent a great deal of time working on Roadless  here in Colorado, and my experience tells me that the relationship between cutting wildfire risk and roadless is fairly complex.    In fact, that’s why after years of laborious work and public involvement, the Colorado Rule deals specifically with hazardous fuel treatments (because, yes, roadless areas can be close to communities and occur in wildfire-prone areas).  From the Key Elements summary of the final Rule allowed temp roads and specified that hazardous fuel treatments were allowed (otherwise you had to argue about uncharacteristic-ness):

Community Wildfire Protection
Provides for hazardous fuel treatment by allowing tree cutting and temporary road construction in a defined area of ½ mile from the boundary of an at-risk community, called a community protection zone (CPZ) in the final Rule.

If specific ground conditions are met, and a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is in place, that boundary may be extended to 1 ½ miles, but temporary roads are prohibited in this additional mile.

Now the Colorado Roadless Rule was signed under the administrations of Governor Hickenlooper (of Colorado, currently Senator) and President Obama.  So it’s interesting that current House Dems would say that codifying the 2001 Rule is vital to “cutting wildfire risk.”  It may sound plausible but it’s not actually true.

Yes, perhaps the bill is performative virtue-signalling to certain groups and will never get anywhere, but I think it’s important to query the ideas behind it and the marketing thereof.


4 thoughts on “Permanentizing Roadless? House Bill 279”

  1. fwiw – My read of the bill is that it preserves the ID and CO state-specific rules. Here’s the bill’s definition of “Roadless Rule”:

    (2) ROADLESS RULE.—The term “Roadless Rule” means part 294 of title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, as adopted on January 12, 2001, and modified for Idaho on October 16, 2008, and for Colorado on July 3, 2012, and December 19, 2016.

    Then the prohibition section reads as follows (it’s just this one sentence):

    The Secretary shall not allow road construction, road reconstruction, or logging in an inventoried roadless area where those activities are prohibited by the Roadless Rule.

    So I think that means the prohibition affects activities in CO that are prohibited by the CO rule.

    In any event the bill has no R cosponsors so it is reasonable to assume it will not pass the Senate, even if it makes it through the House before November. Indeed, there is an identical bill in the Senate (S. 877) and it has only D cosponsors.

  2. Rich, sorry I wasn’t clearer..
    Here is what I meant.
    When the CO Rule was being developed we specifically dealt with fuel treatments near communities and carved that out as a limited exception (with much dialogue about the limits as you might imagine). By permanentizing, you would never give other states a chance to do that.. no matter how bad things get, or what climate change does. While the 2001 Rule is generally good the maps were not so good given the technology of the time. If the Rule wasn’t so symbolic, the FS could revisit it and do something like CO did.. tighten up the disagreed upon places (linear construction zones), fix the maps, add more acres, and give opportunities for fuel treatments, plus examine how climate change might change things. However, it seems that the ENGOs that have most to do with this isue see the 2001 Rule as stone tablets of righteousness and view Roadless through the Coastal mesic lens.

    • Sharon, thanks – yes, I see your point – I think my confusion rather than your lack of clarity was probably the source of the misunderstanding!

      Your point is also valid more generally – codifying regulations is probably seldom a good idea – regs should be easier to change than laws, especially in the case of public lands, where significant substantive legislation appears to be nearly impossible to enact.

      • I think the stability that laws provide is important for long-term management of things like forests. However, they do tend to be a blunt instrument, and I agree that the sacredness of incorrect boundaries isn’t a great thing. A law codifying the Roadless Rule could authorize a process for ground-truthing boundaries.


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