Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that he is renewing an interim directive regarding inventoried roadless areas within our National Forests and Grasslands for an additional year. This is the third one-year, interim directive issued by Secretary Vilsack that governs projects in roadless areas in our National Forests.
"As we await a ruling on the 2001 Roadless Rule from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, I will continue to work with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure we protect roadless areas on our National Forests," said Vilsack. "Renewing this interim directive for a third year reflects this Administration's commitment to conserve our forests by ensuring that projects in roadless areas receive a higher level of scrutiny by this department."
The directive provides decision-making authority to the Secretary over proposed forest management or road construction projects in inventoried roadless areas. This directive also ensures a consistent national review of all proposed projects. In 2009, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Rule is currently under appeal in the 10th Circuit. A ruling on that case is expected soon.
The revised interim directive does not require Secretarial approval for activities such as emergency fire-fighting activities and small diameter timber cutting to improve endangered species habitat and to reduce risk of catastrophic wildlfire. These activities were also exempted under the previous interim directives and are consistent with the 2001 Roadless Rule.
This interim directive does not affect roadless areas on National Forest System lands in Idaho. Idaho developed its own roadless rule through the Administrative Procedures Act. The Idaho rule provides strong protections for roadless areas.
A recent judgment issued by a federal court in Alaska reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The judgment, which was jointly developed by the Forest Service and plaintiffs in the case, allows a series of activities, including construction of hydroelectric facilities and other projects, to move forward.
Vilsack has approved 38 projects under the two, previous interim directives. These projects allowed, for example, forest restoration activities near towns, small hydroelectric facilities in Alaska, moving trailhead and campground facilities, short access roads to state forest lands, mine cleanups, realignment of roads to reduce water run-off and erosion, and drilling methane wells for pre-existing coal mines. Some approved projects allowed for mineral exploration activities under the mandate of the1872 General Mining Law.
This revised interim directive will last for one year.
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to states and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.