NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Banning Roads Would Endanger Forests

October 20, 1999

On October 13, President Clinton announced a ban on additional road construction in 40 million acres of national forest. The ban's ostensible purpose is to protect pristine wilderness -- but it will have the opposite effect, say critics.

In fact, much of the acreage that could be included is not untouched, roadless wilderness. Under the U.S. Forest Service's interim road policy, forests with the type of unpaved roads used mainly for recreational purposes can be officially considered roadless forests. Thus much of the 40 million acres could include trails and campgrounds currently used by cyclists, snowmobilers and other recreational users.

In addition to banning recreation vehicles, wilderness regulations do not permit off-road vehicular travel -- even for emergencies. Firefighters are not allowed to bring trucks and other equipment to the scene of a fire, although, according to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 40 million acres of national forests are at a high risk of catastrophic forest fires.

Thus, for example, in July 1998, firefighters in Elko County, Nev., were stopped just two hundred yards from a rapidly-growing fire in the Cedar Ridge Wilderness Study Area by Bureau of Land Management officials, and more than a thousands acres of wilderness needlessly burned.

Furthermore, without road access to these areas, timbermen will be unable to thin tree stands through selective harvesting -- a practice essential to good forest health. Overgrown forests where an excessive number of trees compete for limited soil nutrients and water are most vulnerable to disease, insect infestations and wildfires. Some 58 million acres of public and private forests are at risk from insect infestations and diseases -- in addition to the 40 million acres of fire-prone forest -- but any of this acreage in the roadless areas will be left to sicken, die and burn on its own.

Source: Press Release "President's Road Ban Threatens Forest Health, Hinders Public Access," October 13, 1999, Environmental Policy Task Force, National Center For Public Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol Street, N.E., Suite 803, Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 371-1400.

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