May 6, 2005
Gov. Janet Napolitano has 18 months to decide what forestlands in Arizona should be protected from road building under a federal rule announced Thursday.
It will now be up to governors to petition the U.S. Forest Service if they want roadless areas in the national forests to remain that way. The new rule, announced by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, replaces a blanket ban on new road building in the national forests.
Lori Faeth, Napolitano’s environmental policy adviser, said the governor’s office was advised of the new rule Thursday, and has gotten little more than a news release from the Forest Service. The governor will have to assess the new rule, as well as the specific needs of the various forests in Arizona, before she develops her recommendations, Faeth said.
Napolitano joined other Democratic governors in November to oppose the Bush administration’s plans to scrap the ban former President Bill Clinton imposed and create a new mechanism to assess whether roads should be built in undeveloped forests.
"The process seems remarkably cumbersome with no guarantee they’d listen to the states anyway," Faeth said of the new Forest Service procedure.
About 10 percent of the 11.2 million acres of national forestland in Arizona is considered to be in roadless areas, according to an assessment provided by the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
State Sen. Jake Flake, RSnowflake, said the new rule is needed to ensure public access to the forests, wildfire protection and commercial timber harvesting.
Recent wildfires in Arizona have sparked efforts to rehabilitate overgrown forests by cutting out small trees and clearing debris that fuels those blazes, Flake said. Roads are needed to adequately thin the forests, he said.
Roads also are needed in some forests to provide better recreational access, Flake said.
"People can’t even enjoy the forests unless you want to walk or go on horseback, and not everyone is able to do that," Flake said.
But Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director of the Sierra Club in Arizona, said building new roads in roadless areas will degrade the forests, endanger wildlife and heighten the risk of wildfires as people go deeper into the woods. She added there are thousands of miles of roads in the national forests.
"We thought the roadless rule that just got gutted was a good rule and we don’t see any reason it should be rolled back," Bahr said. "It’s not like there is a shortage of roads on our public lands."