Road-free forests

On Monday, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced a plan that would prevent new roads from being built and ban virtually all logging in 58.5 million acres of the United States’ national forests. This plan is crucial to the preservation of the wilderness and, in a larger sense, necessary to maintain America’s present quality of life. President Bill Clinton, whose approval the plan awaits, should follow the Forest Service’s recommendation and endorse this ambitious proposal.
Covering 15 million more acres than an earlier version, the plan would prohibit road construction and reconstruction on land deemed already roadless in national parks, with exceptions for matters of public safety and resource protection. It would also prohibit timber harvesting in these same areas, except when done for stewardship purposes, such as maintaining or improving roadless characteristics to improve habitats for threatened, endangered or sensitive species. Harvesting to reduce the risk of an uncharacteristically severe fire or to restore ecological structure, function and process are also acceptable under the Forest Service’s proposal.
The enactment of the plan would directly protect our air resources. Presently there are only 163 Class 1 air quality areas in the United States, and 88 of these are on Forest Service lands close to or in roadless areas. Emissions from vehicles on any new roads would endanger this unusually clean air. Clearly this is reason enough that the plan should be put into law.
Water quality also resounds as a clear reason for the proposal’s enactment. As U.S. national parks contain much of our purest drinking water, we should strive to maintain its high quality. With many of the United States’ water supplies at least somewhat polluted, requiring extensive filtering before humans may consume it, this pure water supply must be maintained.
Similarly, the plants and animals that reside in our national forests deserve protection. Inventoried roadless areas act as undisturbed habitats for a variety of terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals, including hundreds of threatened or endangered species. These areas play a key role in maintaining native plant and animal communities.
Ultimately, it all comes down to money. The plan actually saves the country money, while roads cost money to build and maintain. Currently the Forest Service is behind in maintaining many of its roads. The prohibition on new roads will prevent the agency from focusing its time and money on new roads that destroy habitats, allowing it to instead catch up on repairs to existing roads. Clearly this plan is best for the budget, plants and animals, and our air and water.