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Report Reveals Roadless Rules in Idaho and Montana Offer Little Protection

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Moscow, IDAHO –– Today Friends of the Clearwater (FOC) releases a report on how the Forest Service is managing roadless areas under the Idaho and National Roadless Rules. The report focuses on two states, Idaho and Montana. The findings were revealing and troubling.

The Forest Service manages two types of undeveloped wildlands: Wilderness designated by Congress and protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act, and roadless areas, identified by the Forest Service and protected under regulatory roadless rules. The Forest Service under the Clinton Administration implemented the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (the National Rule) in 2001. The Forest Service under the Bush Administration promulgated a special roadless rule for Idaho in 2008. Colorado also has a state-specific roadless rule, promulgated in 2012 under a process dating from the Bush Administration, that was not part of this report. As is true with designated wilderness, all roadless areas to which Friends of the Clearwater refer are part of federal public lands and belong to citizens nationwide—they are not exclusively owned by the state where they are located.

The report reached the following conclusions:

  • While the National Roadless Rule initially stopped roadless logging in the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests, the Idaho Roadless Rule reversed that and if preliminary Forest Service numbers are correct, has authorized cutting on approximately 1,000 acres of roadless areas in these two forests alone since 2010.
  • Since 2008, in Montana and Idaho, according to the agency’s own preliminary numbers and our efforts to confirm those numbers with National Environmental Policy Act documents, the Forest Service has authorized between 40,000 and 55,000 acres of tree cutting in the states’ national roadless areas.
  • Neither roadless rule’s environmental impact statement has accurately predicted logging levels in roadless areas. The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule’s environmental impact statement predicted that approximately 1,200 to 1,400 acres of roadless areas would be harvested nationwide. According to the Forest Service’s own preliminary numbers, in the past decade, Montana has annually averaged over double that national amount. According to the Forest Service’s preliminary numbers for Idaho, ten years after the Idaho Roadless Rule, the Forest Service has authorized more trees cut than it predicted in the Idaho Roadless Rule’s environmental impact statement.
  • The Forest Service used exceptions that exist in the National Roadless Rule to authorize this logging even though the rule noted that cutting trees in roadless areas to be infrequent. In approximately two-thirds of roadless logging projects authorized in Montana, the Forest Service applied the National Roadless Rule exception for cutting trees in the name of ecosystem restoration. The Forest Service has also used the exceptions and the additional broader permissions that exist in the Idaho Roadless Rule to authorize logging.
  • The Forest Service’s quality of discourse has shifted over the past thirty years from “logging destroys roadless areas” to “logging benefits roadless areas,” which appears to have further facilitated roadless logging. Prior to the National Roadless Rule, the Forest Service on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho forecasted that timber harvest would destroy roadless characteristics by modifying natural processes and cutting trees, which leaves stumps, could create unnatural disturbances in the landscapes. After the 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule, the Forest Service on the same national forests has not uncommonly concluded that logging in roadless areas will benefit roadless characteristics. This includes concluding that cutting over 150-year-old trees in roadless areas would be “temporary” impacts.
  • When revising forest plans, the Forest Service recognizes roadless areas where timber harvest has occurred and drops these areas from the roadless inventory and potential wilderness inventory for reasons of harvest and development.

Katie Bilodeau stated, “The explicit language of the Idaho Roadless Rule allows for more situations to harvest roadless areas than the rule’s national counterpart, so we were not entirely surprised to find the Forest Service has utilized the rule to cut in Idaho roadless areas. We were very surprised, however, to find the frequency with which the Forest Service has been harvesting roadless areas in Montana under the exceptions in the national rule. Idaho and Montana have the second and third largest roadless inventory in the United States, respectively, so our findings raise questions of what might be happening to our national roadless areas elsewhere, such as Alaska, California, and Utah, which have the first, fifth, and sixth largest amount of roadless inventories. Our findings with Idaho also raise the question of what kind of impact the Colorado Roadless Rule might be having on roadless areas there, which has the country’s fourth largest roadless base.”

Both logging and roadbuilding have occurred in Idaho Roadless Areas. Examples can be found on pages 31 through 33 of the report.

Macfarlane concluded by stating, “Roadless-area protection should be uniform across the national forest system. The national forests belong to all Americans. These undeveloped areas should not be more available to build roads and log just because they are in Idaho.”