Recreational Access and Conservation
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Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart


By John Stewart

Do you enjoy hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, birding, off-road vehicle use, mountain biking, backpacking, nature photography, horseback riding, rock hounding, climbing, or any other recreational use of the public lands?

Does your livelihood depend on access to and use of these lands?

If you answer yes to either of those questions, you need to become familiar with the Forest Service and BLM actions in support of the Clinton-Gore Administration initiatives to close massive areas of our national forests, deserts, and range lands to new road building while obliterating many existing roads.

Within the Forest Service, the hot issue is the Roadless Initiative or Clinton’s Lands Legacy. The scope of the Roadless Initiative covers a minimum of 54 million acres of National Forest lands that are currently managed for multiple use activities including recreation, logging, mining and grazing. The National Forest System with 155 national forests encompassing 200 million acres of land has 34.7 million acres currently designated as wilderness with approximately 6 million acres proposed for wilderness designation in forest plans.

The 54 million acres (some anti-access environmentalists are using figures ranging from 64 to 90 million acres) together with the current and proposed wilderness inventory includes almost one half of the National Forest lands that would be "protected" from recreationists and others who depend on forest roads for their livelihood.

Over the years, forest planning and "wilderness" designations have involved extensive public involvement and legislative action by Congress. A "wilderness" designation means that motorized vehicles and mechanical equipment are no longer allowed to enter these areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964, the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), along with several other laws provide the guidelines for public comment and eventual congressional action required to establish wilderness areas.

By contrast, Clinton’s Lands Legacy (Roadless Initiative) policy has been developed behind closed doors in concert with anti-recreation lobbyists - such as the Sierra Club, The Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society in a deliberate attempt to exclude Congress and the public from the decision-making process.

The Forest Service has gone to great lengths portraying these "roadless" areas, many less than 1000 acres in size, as the last vestiges of pristine virgin forests that must be protected from destruction by logging, mining and recreation.

In fact, these "roadless" areas were identified by the Forest Service in the 1970s as areas with little or no logging or mining potential. Many of them do contain roads that were in existence before the Forest Service was created to manage public lands. To recreationists, these areas do contain roads, some that have been used for generations to picnic, hunt, fish, collect firewood, rock hounding, and to enjoy the solitude of the forest. Many of these roads were built by the Forest Service for fire fighting and are marked with the Forest Service's own little brown signs. To the anti-recreation lobby, these roads do not exist and the areas are “roadless”.

According to Forest Service estimates, ninety-seven percent of forest roads are used by skiers, bikers, and hikers and other recreational users. Only three percent of the National Forest roads are used by the timber industry. Less than 2 percent of national forest visitors are using the approximately 20 percent of land already designated as Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. Recreational road use since 1950 has increased 1,300% and yet the Forest Service projects only a 67% increase during the next 50 years while acknowledging that driving for pleasure is the “SINGLE LARGEST RECREATIONAL USE OF NFS LANDS” and a significant and continuing increase in that demand is forecast. The NFS road system plays an important role in providing average people access to our national forests.

By Forest Service estimates, over 40 million acres of our national forests are at high risk of being consumed by catastrophic wildfire, and many of these acres are in roadless areas. In the early 1900’s tree density in newly created National Forest System was estimated to be 80 trees per acre. Current estimates place the tree density at over 1,000 trees per acre. The increased tree density and lack of adequate water has left many trees susceptible to disease and insects. Over the years, the Forest Service has reduced the volume of timber sales that would normally thin the forests to promote healthy growth and sustained yield. Forest roads are an integral part of the stewardship process protecting the forest from fires and disease.

According to the Forest Service, the Roadless Initiative will not affect use of roads already present in "roadless" areas. However, when combined with other Forest Service policy documents currently under development - the Road Management Plan, the Planning Rule, and the Strategic Plan - the impact of the entire management package is significant.

The Road Management Plan calls for the "aggressive decommissioning" of hundreds of thousands of miles of "unneeded" roads. The Strategic Plan calls for the restoration of national forests to "pre-European" conditions. With these management policies in place, any road within the National Forest System is subject to being defines as unneeded.

The Next Step.....

Several initiatives of extreme importance to the recreational community are in the public comment phase.

Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Draft Environmental Impact Statement, May 2000

Attend a meeting in your forest region. for current meeting schedule.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is now available online for you to read and/or download. If you're interested in commenting on the DEIS, please send your written comments by July 17, 2000 to the following addresses:

Attn: Roadless Area Conservation Proposed Rule
PO Box 221090
Salt Lake City, UT 84122

E-mail: (please enter Roadless Proposed Rule in the subject line)

The Sierra Frame Work Preliminary Draft, Chapter 3 (The Affected Environment), Part V (Land and Resource Use), Section H (Recreation).

It explains how 1/4 of all roads in California National Forests will be considered Primitive and fall within a Wilderness or Roadless area. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is now available online for you to read and/or download. If you're interested in commenting on the DEIS, please send your written comments by August 11, 2000 to the following addresses:

USDA Forest Service- CAET
Sierra Nevada Framework Project
PO Box 7669
200 E. Broadway, Room 301
Missoula MT 59807

E-mail: (please enter SNFP comments in subject line)


1 - Draft Manual Section 1600 - Land Use Planning
2 - Draft Land Use Planning Handbook, H-1600-1
3 - Qs and As on the Draft BLM Planning Guidance

Comments on the guidance must be received by August 10, 2000. Comments should address the adequacy of the draft guidance for use in preparing, updating and implementing land use plans and subsequent implementation plans. Also, identify areas where additional or expanded guidance is needed. BLM Comments may be submitted electronically to the attention of Ted Milesnick, WO-210 at

Contacts: Related Links:

John Stewart