The State of Utah plans to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a state-specific rollback of the 2001 “Roadless Rule” that limits forest road building associated with industrial logging.
The Roadless Rule was implemented to promote stewardship of undeveloped forests. It protects species habitat, watersheds and recreation areas on about half of Utah’s National Forest lands amounting to about 4 million acres.
While the State of Utah claims that road building is necessary for wildfire prevention, most wildfires are human-caused. Building roads into forests would bring in more people and, with them, more fire danger.
The Wilderness Society says that in the last five years, 90% of forest acreage burned was outside of roadless areas. What’s more, the Roadless Rule already has provisions to deal with wildfire emergencies.
The real reason the State of Utah wants the proposed rule change seems intended to avoid environmental regulations on logging and to eliminate opportunities for public input. Utah has already asked county commissioners to submit recommendations for how they would like to manage National Forest lands.
A “confidential and privileged” memo dated November 30, 2016 from Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, a state agency whose purpose is to “preserve and defend rights to access, use, and benefit from public lands within the State,” complains about “de facto Wilderness” and advocates an agenda to “revoke the Forest Service’s roadless rule and reinstate timber production on federal land that has been managed as special areas or roadless areas.”
Citizen groups working to preserve Utah’s roadless rule are Save Our Canyons, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Wild Utah Project and the Wilderness Society.