Forest "Roadless" Policy

Feb 12, 1999


Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operation, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry questioned the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) final interim rule placing a moratorium on road construction and reconstruction within the National Forest System.

The rule, developed by the agency's Washington, D.C. office, suspends road management activities in areas that are identified under the rule as "roadless" for a period of 18 months.  According to the USFS, ninety-seven percent of forest roads are used for recreation, while the rest provide access to forestry professionals for a variety of forest health management activities.  This rule comes despite USFS Chief Mike Dombeck testimony before Congress that there are at least 40 million acres of forest at risk of catastrophic wildfire, and that tens of millions of acres are at risk of destruction from insects and disease.

"Any time you replace local decision-making with one-size-fits-all directives from Washington, D.C. you are heading down a very dangerous path,"  Goodlatte said.  "I agree that we need a comprehensive strategy for managing our National Forest road system.  However, I disagree with policies that replace local planning and expertise with 'Washington knows best' mandates.  This rule ties the hands of local forest managers to treat forest areas at risk of destruction from catastrophic wildfire, disease and insect infestations."

"We are at a critical juncture where we should be putting more management tools into the hands of local professionals, not taking them away," Goodlatte said.  "By denying access to the forest, this policy will prevent treatment of those areas at greatest risk."

Goodlatte also criticized the rule's exclusion of local communities from decision-making regarding the management of roadless areas.

"There doesn't seem to be any provision in the rule to provide local communities an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process."  Goodlatte said.  "It sends the clear message that collaborative stewardship, a theme often touted by the Forest Service, is little more than a slogan. The people who live near National Forest land and forestry professionals have the most at stake in keeping forests healthy, and their experience and judgment should be respected."

Congressman Goodlatte represents the Sixth District of Virginia, which includes one million acres of federal forestland in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.