President’s Road Ban Threatens Forest Health, Hinders Public Access: Roads in National Forests Are Vital for Firefighting and Recreational Access

President Bill Clinton’s plan, announced on October 13, to ban additional road construction in 40 million acres of national forest wilderness to ostensibly protect pristine wilderness will have the opposite effect by inhibiting efforts to fight forest fires and preserve forest health, according to The National Center for Public Policy Research’s Environmental Policy Task Force.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 40 million acres of national forests are at a high risk of catastrophic forest fires. Although it is imperative that steps be taken to facilitate firefighting capabilities, President Clinton’s proposal to ban new roads undermines this goal by denying firefighters the ability to bring trucks and other equipment to the scene of the fire.

A telling example of how wilderness designations can hurt forest health occurred in July,1998 when firefighters in Elko County, Nevada were prevented by wilderness regulations from extinguishing a fire in the federally-protected Cedar Ridge Wilderness Study Area. Only two hundreds yards from the rapidly-growing blaze, Bureau of Land Management officials forbade the firemen from driving their vehicles off the road because regulations do not permit off-road vehicular travel even for emergencies. As a result, more than a thousands acres of federal wilderness needlessly burned.

In addition to the 40 million acres of fire-prone forest, 58 million acres of public and private forests are at risk from insect infestations and diseases. Lack of adequate road access could aggravate the plight of these forests. Without road access to these areas, timbermen will be unable to thin tree stands through selective harvesting – a practice which is essential to good forest health. Overgrown forests where an excess number of trees compete for limited soil nutrients and water are most vulnerable to disease, insect infestations and wildfires.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is also concerned that the Administration’s road moratorium poses a major threat to the ability of millions of Americans to continue to enjoy their national parks for recreational use. While the Administration portrays its policy as an effort to protect pristine forests, much of the 40 million acres affected by the road ban could end up including trails and campgrounds that are currently used by cyclists, snowmobilers and other recreational users. Under the U.S. Forest Service’s interim road policy, forests with the type of unpaved roads used mainly for recreational purposes can be officially considered roadless forests. As a result, thousands of tourists could be effectively shut out of their favorite parks if federal agencies determine that popular trails can no longer be used by motorized recreational vehicles. Handicapped Americans would be particularly vulnerable to such restrictions as many simply cannot access these areas on foot.

"It’s a profoundly dishonest policy," says John Carlisle, director of the Environmental Policy Task Force. "Under the guise of saving the forests, the Administration is going to drive off the very people our forests and parks are supposed to attract. What’s worse is that these regulations place us on a slippery slope: By pushing timber and mining companies and motorized recreational users off these lands, it will be all that much easier for government to push hikers off these lands in the future should it decide to do so."

The National Center For Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, D.C.

For more information, contact John Carlisle at The National Center For Public Policy Research at 202-507-6398 or [email protected].

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.