Obama Keeps Roads Out of National Forests — For a Time

Paved roads are a fact of life in most of the country, but should they be permitted in the nation’s protected forest areas? The Obama administration says no, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack affirmed today in a directive that prohibits road construction in nearly 50 million acres of forest land.

copper_river_highway_10404.jpgAlaska’s Copper River Highway runs through forest land. (Photo: alaska-in-pictures.com)

As the Associated Press reports, the most immediate impact of Vilsack’s move will come in Alaska, where the Tongass National Forest was poised for a road-building project linked to new logging. But preserving roadless forests is a hot issue all across the west, particularly in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has sought to keep roads out of three national forests that are close to the Los Angeles metro area.

It’s important to note, though, that Vilsack’s directive is only in place for a year — meaning that roadless forests won’t be assured protection unless Congress steps in to pass the bills sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).

And for anyone wondering whether keeping roads out of forests is a local issue, check out the Forest Service’s list of pavement-free zones in each state. You may be surprised to know how many protected areas there are.

  • If they ever really need pavement in an area like that, the technology is out there with permeable asphalt, permeable concrete, low-heat-absorbing surface treatments, to keep things greener. In fact, they should consider using such treatments in national parks that are currently covered with roads.

  • Deciding uses for national forests is much different then the question of whether or not we should build another 10-lane arterial or more mass transit in a major metropolitian area.

    For one thing, a 10-lane road has much bigger environmental impact then a rough packed-dirt one-lane wide pickup truck trail. An urban highway is about moving many cars, while a rural forest preserve road is about moving the few people who want to use a piece of land.

    That said, cars are noisy and there are many reasons we might not want to have vehicles in a certain area. People in cars/snowmobiles/atvs can easily haul in litter/illegal dumping. Roads also make it easier to extract materials like lumber and minereals, not an ideal proposition in truly wild areas. Moreover, wherever you have cars, your going to have noise from the cars driving down the road.

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