The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Vera Smith, Director, Recreation Planning Program, 303-650-5818 x 111;
Kristen Brengel, Legislative Liaison, Recreation Planning Program, 202-320-2913;

Forest Service Whiffs on Chance to Solve Two Critical Problems

Agency offers no remedy for wildlife and watersheds from oversized and decaying road system


The U.S. Forest Service today chose to ignore its regulations and pass on opportunities to address two of the most serious threats facing our national forests - the impact of off-road vehicles (ORVs) and of our over-sized and decaying forest roads system. Issuing new management guidelines today, the agency provided direction on how land managers can elude existing safeguards rather than comply with them.

"We could not be more disappointed with today's announcement," said Vera Smith, the director of the recreation planning program for The Wilderness Society. "The conservation community has worked diligently with the Forest Service over the past three years to make this process a success for everyone."

With only two months to go before the end of the Bush Administration, the Forest Service announced how it will decide where and how motor vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles and hummers can drive on this nation's forests and grasslands. In issuing the final directives on road and motorized trail planning, the Bush Administration declared its intention not to address the serious impacts occurring every day to our wildlife and watersheds from off-road vehicles driving on a bloated and decaying road system. Experts have long agreed that these types of decisions about where roads exist and how they can be used are integral to the health of our nation's rivers, fish, and wildlife.

In 2005, former Chief Dale Bosworth declared the Forest Service's intention to address damage to wildlife, watersheds and other forest resources stemming from unmanaged motorized recreation. The Forest Service undertook a four-year initiative to end cross-country driving and designate the roads and motorized trails available for public use in all national forests and grasslands. This initiative complemented a previous effort started in 2001 that called for each national forest to identify its minimum road system and routes that need to be decommissioned.

In concert, the two initiatives, when issued, demonstrated a commitment by the Forest Service to provide recreational opportunities while finally trying to get a handle on its oversized and decaying road system. The initiatives are also meant to strike a balance between motorized recreation and a more natural experience for hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, and anglers.

The final guidance issued today attempts to relieve individual forests and grasslands of their duty, integral to the route designation process, to identify which roads are unneeded, environmentally damaging, or should be decommissioned.

Equally disturbing, the guidance exempts the vast majority of forests and grasslands from even having to follow the now-eviscerated process. Specifically, any national forest or grassland that has already started a travel plan, no matter how recently, is now exempt from having to apply a science-based analysis to its road and motorized trail system before it makes a decision.

As a result, national forests will continue to be plagued unnecessarily with oversized, decaying, and fiscally draining road systems, and our wildlife and rivers will continue to pay the price. This midnight hour action is especially disturbing in light of the economic crisis; currently the Forest Service is only able to maintain about 20 percent of its road system nationwide and has an ever-growing backlog of deferred road maintenance of an estimated $10 billion.

"The Forest Service directives are supposed to instruct employees how to implement the regulations, not how to avoid them," concluded Matt Dietz, an ecologist stationed in The Wilderness Society's California/Nevada regional office.

Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the conservation movement in wilderness protection, writing and passing the landmark Wilderness Act and winning lasting protection for 107 million acres of Wilderness, including 56 million acres of spectacular lands in Alaska, eight million acres of fragile desert lands in California and millions more throughout the nation.