New Roadless Rule Lets States Choose Forest Protection
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced a final roadless rule that effectively allows the states to petition for national forest protections provided by the previous rule or to revert back to forest management plans that had been adopted locally.
The secretary’s new rule was developed after the previous regulation, issued in January 2001, was struck down by a U.S. District Court in July 2003 for being in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act. NAHB opposed the rule because of its negative economic impacts and its one-size-fits-all approach to managing 58.5 million acres of national forest land.
According to a Forest Service press release, the updated rule “sets a straightforward, collaborative path toward conserving inventoried roadless areas by working with the states on regulations specific to the needs and requirements of each state.”
Of key concern to builders in Alaska, the rule makes permanent a temporary exemption for the state’s Tongass National Forest that was granted by the Forest Service in December 2003. This will enable the forest to continue to be governed by its previous forest management plan.
Other highlights of the new rule include:
- States must file a petition to amend roadless management provisions within 18 months. After that time, the standard U.S. Forest Service process for a rule amendment or repeal will apply.
- If a state chooses to opt-in to a different level of protection or management of roadless areas than those that existed before the start of 2001, it must identify how its new proposal differs, what the proposal attempts to accomplish and how the proposed changes comply with existing forest management laws.
- The new rule contains a clause that allows it to remain in effect even if parts of it are challenged by litigation. A number of temporary and permanent injunctions crippled the first roadless rule shortly after it was issued in 2001.
- While it is up to the states to develop and file a petition, the review of petitions is a federal process that includes public comment. Petitioning states are expected to assume a cooperative agency role in the development of environmental analyses.
- While the rule does not define any specific criteria for reviewing state petitions, a committee is being established to advise and assist in their review and approval.
For more information on NAHB’s forest policies, e-mail Christopher Galik at 800-368-5242 x8663.