Roadless Area Protections to be Codified?

The Wilderness Society says:

On July 29, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5118, The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act. H.R. 5118 is a package of nearly 50 bills aimed at curbing wildfire and drought and improving forest management. The Wilderness Society applauds the inclusion of the Roadless Area Conservation Act in the package.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act would codify the 2001 Roadless Rule, and would provide permanent protection for inventoried roadless areas in the National Forest System by barring the construction and development of roads, timber harvesting and other development.

I looked at the text of the bill and found this:

SEC. 208. Protection of inventoried roadless areas.

The Secretary of Agriculture shall not authorize road construction, road reconstruction, or the cutting, sale, or removal of timber on National Forest System lands subject to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule as published on January 12, 2001 (66 Fed. Reg. 3243) except as provided in—

The bill was sent to the Senate, where my guess is it’ll die.

6 thoughts on “Roadless Area Protections to be Codified?”

  1. While we’re on the subject of roadless areas, does anyone know exactly why the roadless area designation process ended up designating “roadless” areas that are in fact covered with roads? I know of a few instances in Colorado, but it seems to be particularly egregious up in Wyoming. When I was researching some Jeep trails up by Yellowstone last month, I noticed there are just tons of non cherry-stemmed designated Forest Service roads (most classified as ML2 roads) running through the middle of Inventoried Roadless Areas. For example, the Morison Jeep Trail (Forest ROAD 120 – Morrison ROAD in the FS MVUM GIS data) runs straight through the middle of the the South Beartooth Highway IRA.

    I don’t know that much about the inventory process used to originally designate these areas, but I assume they must have used some kind of squirely definition of “road” such that what most people would consider roads somehow didn’t qualify as roads. I know the BLM wilderness study area process distinguished between “roads” which were cherry-stemmed out of WSAs and “ways” which were not. Did the Forest Service do something similar? What was the dividing line? Were ML3 and above routes considered roads while ML2 was not?

    And then of course I know the Colorado Roadless Rule allows motorized trails, including those open to full-size vehicles, which I’ve always found hilarious because those are indistinguishable from ML2 roads on the ground and the only difference is in legal classification. Those are fully allowed and you can even build new ones, but only if you call it a trail and not a road.

    At any rate, it would be a lot easier for people to take the Roadless Rule seriously if these areas were actually, you know, roadless.

    • Patrick, I worked on the Colorado Roadless effort and was once a Roadless Geek but that was ten years ago now. So I am saying what I remember with some humility.

      My understanding was that the inventory for the 2001 Roadless was based on the best maps they had at the time 1999 ish. So that many roads did get included. Politically they were in a hurry to finish the effort before the next Admin. This caused consternation with many employees as well as many citizens and elected officials. But that has passed with time. That’s why I think this bill is unnecessary .. except perhaps it’s really about the Tongass, which holds some kind of symbolic resonance as an issue.

      The other historical note on roadless is it was fundamentally about stopping “logging” so wasn’t really intended to be “about” recreation, or roads or trails.

      Anyway it’s easy to take a look at the reg

      Here’s the need for action
      “Promulgating this rule is necessary to
      protect the social and ecological values
      and characteristics of inventoried
      roadless areas from road construction
      and reconstruction and certain timber
      harvesting activities. Without
      immediate action, these development
      activities may adversely affect
      watershed values and ecosystem health
      in the short and long term, expand the
      road maintenance backlog which would
      increase the financial burden associated
      with road maintenance, and perpetuate
      public controversy and debate over the
      management of these areas.”
      If we look at the definition of road under 294.11
      “Road. A motor vehicle travelway over
      50 inches wide, unless designated and
      managed as a trail.”

      You can also look under 294.13 (4) (Geek term of art, “substantially altered”) to see that timber harvesting can occur where there are already roads in the roadless area.
      “Roadless characteristics have been
      substantially altered in a portion of an
      inventoried roadless area due to the
      construction of a classified road and
      subsequent timber harvest. Both the
      road construction and subsequent
      timber harvest must have occurred after
      the area was designated an inventoried
      roadless area and prior to January 12,
      2001. Timber may be cut, sold, or
      removed only in the substantially
      altered portion of the inventoried
      roadless area”
      Now there could be two reasons, (1) the original roadless maps were wrong (from even more ancient mapping in RARE’s I and II) and (2) from the fact that new roads had been built between the original IRA mapping and 2001.

      The CRS has some of that history in this 2020 paper

      I’m sure other TSW folks may have been involved in earlier mapping efforts as well.

      As to the Colorado Roadless Rule, we were not particularly interested in getting involved in travel management aspects, we just tried to fix the boundaries (adding and subtracting) and making the restrictions in 2001 fit our state, and made some more restrictions with regard to “things that judges think are not roads but various important actors don’t like,” aka pipeline construction).

      One more historical thing, when Chief Bosworth identified the Four Threats Fire and Fuels, Invasive Species, Loss of Open Space, and Unmanaged recreation, I think was when people became super concerned about OHVs

      Timewise, those concerns were after the promulgation of the 2001 Rule. The last update of that page was 2006, and Chief Bosworth served as Chief from 2001-2007. As I recall those concerns ultimately led to the Travel Management Rule.

      • Thanks Sharon. Good to know some of the history of the Roadless Rule. Interesting that it was originally supposed to just be about stopping logging. I wonder when the shift happened that got us to where we are today, where roadless areas are viewed by both the Forest Service and NGOs as essentially candidate wilderness areas like BLM WSAs. And the primary focus these days has very much shifted from stopping logging to stopping recreation. Amazing how inevitable mission creep is with these sorts of things.

        • Well I guess (before my time, I first got involved with Roadless 94-ish) it all tracks back to Wilderness in some ways..from the CRS report linked in the comment above.

          Roadless Area Inventories
          The Wilderness Act directed the Secretary of Agriculture to review the wilderness potential of
          NFS primitive areas and to make recommendations to the President about the suitability of those
          lands for wilderness designation, within 10 years of the act’s passage (i.e., by 1974).9 The act
          provided that the President “shall advise” Congress regarding wilderness designation of those
          areas, including revising the boundaries of proposed wildernesses (e.g., by “recommending the
          addition of any contiguous area of national forest lands predominantly of wilderness value”).10
          The FS conducted two inventories of NFS lands under this authority. As discussed below, courts
          enjoined both inventories, and neither inventory was presented to Congress. Legal decisions also
          constrained FS management actions in areas related to the inventories.
          The FS referred to the first such inventory as the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE
          I). RARE I included previously identified NFS primitive areas as well as other undeveloped
          11 The FS recommended 12.3 million acres for possible wilderness designation in RARE I.
          However, RARE I was abandoned following a judicial ruling that the agency had failed to
          comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in conducting a timber sale in the
          Teton National Forest.
          13 The FS began a second review (RARE II) in 1977, which recommended
          15.1 million acres for possible wilderness designation by Congress.
          14 However, the U.S. Court of
          Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) found that the agency again failed to comply with
          NEPA requirements in promulgating RARE II.
          15 In the case of RARE II, the Ninth Circuit again

          8 P.L. 88-577, §3a, 16 U.S.C. §1132a. The Wilderness Act designated all existing FS wild, wilderness, and canoe areas
          as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Canoe areas referred to a single administratively
          designated FS area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. For more information on wilderness, see CRS Report RL31447,
          Wilderness: Overview, Management, and Statistics, by Anne A. Riddle and Katie Hoover.
          9 Pub. L. No. 88-577 §3(b), 16 U.S.C. §1132(b) (“The Secretary of Agriculture shall, within ten years after September
          3, 1964, review, as to its suitability or nonsuitability for preservation as wilderness, each area in the national forests
          classified on September 3, 1964 by the Secretary of Agriculture or the Chief of the Forest Service as “primitive” and
          report his findings to the President.”)
          10 Pub. L. No. 88-577 §3(a), 16 U.S.C. §1132(a).
          11 FS, Roadless and Undeveloped Areas Draft Environmental Statement: Selection of Proposed New Study Areas from
          Roadless and Undeveloped Areas of the National Forests, January 1973. Notice of availability given at FS, “Selection
          of Proposed New Study Areas from Roadless and Undeveloped Areas of the National Forests: Notice of Availability of
          Draft Environmental Statement,” 38 Federal Register 2774, January 30, 1973.
          12 Id.
          13 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4370m-12. Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 661
          F.3d 1209, 1221 (10th Cir. 2011), citing Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t Wyoming Outdoor Coordinating Council v. Butz, 484
          F.2d 1244, 1246 (10th Cir. 1973) (overruled, in part, on unrelated grounds by Los Ranchos De Albuquerque v. Marsh,
          956 F.2d 970, 973 (10th Cir. 1992).
          14 FS, Roadless Area Review and Evaluation II: Final Environmental Statement, January 1979. Notice of availability
          given at FS, “Receipt of Environmental Impact Statements,” 44 Federal Register 3087, January 15, 1979.
          15 California v. Block, 690 F.2d 753, 775 (9th Cir. 1982).
          Forest Service Inventoried Roadless Areas
          Congressional Research Service 4
          enjoined the FS from releasing areas not recommended for wilderness designation, which
          included 47 million acres recommended for either further study or non-wilderness use.16
          The ongoing legal issues with FS inventories, and the associated limits on timber harvesting, road
          building, and other management actions, generated considerable congressional debate and
          interest.17 In the 1980s, Congress enacted a number of state-specific wilderness laws.18These
          laws designated millions of acres inventoried in RARE I and II as wilderness, specified some
          areas for further study as potential wilderness, and released remaining RARE I and II lands from
          potential wilderness designation.19 Management direction for the remaining RARE I and II areas
          was determined at the national forest level, through individual FS land and resource management
          plans (forest plans).20

          • I tried to avoid being involved in wilderness issues, but I also understood that the roadless area inventory was to be based on the criteria used for wilderness eligibility. Those criteria may now be found in the Wilderness Evaluation section of the Planning Handbook (Chapter 70). For roads, the general rule is to exclude from the inventory forest roads maintained to levels 3, 4, or 5.


            I was surprised by your statement that this was “fundamentally about stopping “logging.”” The purpose statement says otherwise, and I always thought it was fundamentally about preserving options for wilderness (which is not precluded by logging). Areas were to be included in the inventory included: “3. Timber harvest areas where logging and prior road construction are not substantially noticeable, or if wilderness character can be maintained or restored through appropriate
            management actions.”


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