Opinion Editorial on Transportation Management Policy,
January 10, 2001

In the past week, newspapers have been filled with information about President Clinton's Roadless Initiative, an effort to preserve unroaded areas in National Forests. There has been little talk, however, about the U.S. Forest Service Transportation Management Policy, which was released at the same time. This policy covers every road administered by the Forest Service in the United States.

The new Transportation Management Policy is aimed at the 380,000-plus miles of recognized roads in our National Forest system, and an estimated 60,000 miles of undocumented and/or user-created roads. The Forest Service Chief, Mike Dombeck, said the agency is moving away from development of the Forest Service transportation and toward management of it.

This is a welcome shift in policy. Roads wreak havoc on the environment by breaking up secure wildlife habitat, silting streams and destroying fish habitat and water quality in the process.

The new policy reinforces the need for sound environmental management of Forest Service lands. The Forest Service lacks the funding to maintain its roads, and does not even have a complete inventory of its road system.

This is something Predator Conservation Alliance has known for a long time. In the mid-1990's, we conducted inventories of 17 different forest management units in the northern Rockies. In these units alone, we found more than 300 miles of unidentified, or so-called "ghost" roads, and more than 200 miles of roads with ineffective road closures. Also, Predator Conservation Alliance found numerous landslides above and below roads, some severe enough to divert stream courses. Hundreds of miles of roads were found to have severe erosion problems, landslides and blown out culverts.

Roads also wreak havoc on the Forest Service's budget. There is an estimated backlog of $8.4 billion in repair and maintenance work needed on Forest Service roads. Congress has not addressed this backlog and continually under-funds the agency.

While the policy calls for these road inventories to be complete within two years, the money for implementing this new policy and the money for addressing the huge backlog of repair work is nowhere to be found. The agency receives about 20 percent of the funds it needs annually just to maintain the existing road system to environmental and safety standards.

Certainly, the new policy will help alleviate the backlog of repairs by removing, rather than repairing, unnecessary and damaging roads. But once again, the onus will be on Congress to fund this policy and remove the budgetary stranglehold on those within the Forest Service and other federal land agencies that would really like to do right by our public lands.

The Forest Service Transportation Management Policy will have the biggest effect on currently "managed" areas. These areas, easily accessible and used the most are often at lower elevations and along streams and rivers. These areas are also the most critical to wildlife, and have great ecological value.

If this policy fails on the ground, we can look to Congress to explain why, in spite of the Forest Service's good intentions, our representatives chose not to make a commitment to protect and restore our heritage public lands.

Sara Folger
Conservation Director,
Predator Conservation Alliance
Bozeman, Mont.

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