Hageman, Harriet M. The “Roadless Rule” and Global Warming - What You Should Really Know. Wyoming Agriculture Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008
Full text [here]
On Oct. 19, 2007 the parties to the ongoing dispute over the “Roadless Rule” appeared once again before Judge Brimmer to argue about whether the Rule violated numerous federal environmental statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Wilderness Act. The current dispute is a continuation of the State of Wyoming’s 2001 lawsuit, and stems from Judge Brimmer’s 2003 decision (found at 277 F.Supp.2d 1197 (D.Wyo. 2003)) to enjoin enforcement of the Roadless Rule based on the fact that it violated NEPA and the Wilderness Act.
Despite Judge Brimmer’s injunction, and because of the numerous lawsuits that have been filed challenging any sort of active and effective forest management, many National Forest Managers have continued to adhere to the mandates of the Roadless Rule, thereby implementing an illegal, politically-driven, and ecologically-devastating policy.
In 2004 I explained in several editorials that the Roadless Rule is bad for forest health and is bad for Wyoming. It was developed in the waning days of the Clinton administration to deny access, management and use of, 58.5 million acres of National Forest lands (30% of the National Forests; 2% of the total land mass of the United States; 3.2 million acres in Wyoming). It was adopted following what was arguably the most truncated, superficial and scientifically-devoid NEPA rulemaking in history. The alleged “public process” associated with the Roadless Rule was politically driven rather than scientifically supported, with less than thirteen (13) months having elapsed between the announcement of the proposed Rule and publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
It was an illegal, Washington, D.C. driven, one-size-fits-all approach to
management of 1/3 of our National Forests. It was designed to ignore the
physical aspects, management considerations, economic issues, and
social/cultural dimensions that make each National Forest unique. It treated
Wyoming’s National Forests exactly the same as the National forests in North
Carolina and Puerto Rico, and violated the individualized Forest Management
Plans that have been painstakingly developed pursuant to the National Forest
Management Act (NFMA). The Roadless Rule bypassed scientific analysis; hijacked
local participation in forest management; and anointed Washington, D.C. as the
supreme authority on forest management decisions …
At the time that the Roadless Rule was being considered, the Federal Governmental Accounting Office (GAO) and numerous National Forest Managers warned that, because of its prohibition on treatment and management, the Roadless Rule substantially increased the risk of catastrophic forest fires and devastating insect infestations within the National Forests, as well as within the adjacent State and private lands. …
The GAO also reported that the Roadless Rule would prohibit a National Forest from constructing a road to thin a strand of trees or to mechanically remove underbrush and dead vegetation to reduce the risk of uncontrollable and catastrophic fires, or to improve the Forests’ resistance to insects and diseases that would otherwise kill trees and add to fuel loads. …
Advocates of the Roadless Rule, in responding to the GAO’s findings, described the anticipated destruction of our National Forests (and surrounding State and private lands) as nothing more than “unavoidable adverse effects.” They further responded that the “national ecological and social value associated with keeping roadless areas roadless outweigh local adverse impacts associated with not constructing a road in a roadless area.” In their minds the furthering of the national “roadless” agenda outweighed any consideration for the devastation that such a policy would cause…
The catastrophic risks foretold by the GAO and the Forest Managers have now come to pass with the destruction of large swaths of our National Forests. Millions of acres of the National and State Forest lands in the western United States were burned in the year 2007 alone. …
[V]ast acreages of dead and dying trees killed by the beetle only increase the danger of catastrophic wildfire, placing entire watersheds at risk of uncontrollable runoff, erosion, mudslides, and the strangulation of our rivers and streams. We can reasonably predict that we have not yet seen the worst of these so-called “unavoidable adverse effects” of the Roadless Rule, especially considering the “sea of red” that now blankets so much of our forest landscape.
The unhealthy conditions found in many of our National Forests are not solely related to the adoption and implementation of the Roadless Rule. In fact, we are suffering from catastrophic forest fires and beetle infestations throughout the National Forest system, not just in the “roadless” areas. The current state of affairs, however, is directly tied to a concerted effort on the part of certain organizations and politicians to prohibit any and all management and use of our National Forests, regardless of the benefits that such management will provide, and regardless of the devastation that a lack of such management will cause. The Roadless Rule is simply one of the tools by which these organizations and politicians have sought to further that agenda.
We are at risk of losing millions of acres of additional National Forest lands in the Western United States. Fortunately for those organizations and politicians who have fought so tirelessly against our National Forest Service’s efforts to manage these lands, “global warming” arrived just in the nick of time to act as the convenient scapegoat. “Global warming” can now be blamed for the destruction that we see, thereby avoiding any indepth analysis of the failed environmental policies (such as the Roadless Rule) of the past thirty to forty years. By beating the “global warming” drum, these organizations and politicians can now demand that the federal government not only perpetuate these failed environmental policies, but adopt even more onerous regulations, the outcome of which will be additional “unavoidable adverse effects”…
The irony of the relationship between the “global warming” mantra and
National Forest management is probably best illustrated by the recent wildfires
in Southern California, which burned around 500,000 acres (the equivalent of
of the entire [national] “roadless” area). The October 19-26 fires spewed the same
amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (8.7 million tons) as did all of California’s power plants and vehicles. It is estimated that wildfires in the United States pump 322 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year, which is approximately 5% of what the entire country emits by burning fossil fuels such as gasoline and coal.
Perhaps these organizations and politicians should focus their efforts on using forest management as a tool for fighting so-called “global warming,” with the dual benefits of minimizing catastrophic wildfire and checking the spread of the bark beetles. That idea is much more appealing to us Wyomingites who would like to avoid being saddled with the “unavoidable adverse effects” visited upon us by those who continue to fight for the Roadless Rule and similar misguided policies.
Hageman & Brighton, P.C., is a water and natural resources law firm in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Harriet Hageman and Kara Brighton are also the Executive Directors of the Wyoming Conservation Alliance, which assists businesses, ranchers, industry groups, sportsmen groups, and local governmental entities to participate in the federal regulatory process.