Bush May Amend Roadless Lands Rules

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
The Bush administration has indicated it willfine-tune former President Clinton's plan to manage roads and trails on almost60 million acres of national forest, the American Motorcyclist Association(AMA)reports.

In an announcement May 4, the Bush administration said it would implementthe so-called roadless lands initiative effective May 12, but also said that itwould propose amendments in June that would reopen a public comment process...

The move is the first concrete step in the Bush administration's review ofthe initiative -- issued in the waning days of the Clinton administration --andcould open the door to changes in how the government will manage almost 60million acres of federal land, or an area the size of Wyoming. Key to thedebatefor outdoor recreation enthusiasts is whether the roadless rule could close offaccess to trails used by motorcyclists, all-terrain vehicle riders, horseriders, mountain bikers and others.

"There are many miles of trails already open to motorcycles andall-terrainvehicles on the so-called roadless areas of U.S. Forest Service land," saidEdward Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, "and even theBushadministration notes that at least 2.5 million acres designated as roadless, infact, have roads.

"The Bush administration should be commended for reopening the process toget a more accurate idea of where the roadless area boundaries should be, togetmore public input, and to address other concerns, because we said from thebeginning that the process was flawed for instituting this new rule withoutenough broad-based input from the public."

Moreland suggested that off-highway motorcyclists, ATV users and othersinterested in outdoor recreation need to let the administration know that itshould maintain recreational access to public land. The easiest way to do so isto go to the AMA website at www.AMADirectlink.com and click on the "AMA RapidResponse Center" icon where you'll find an already written message to federalofficials.

The Bush administration didn't specify precisely what revisions might bemade, but Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, whose department oversees the U.S.Forest Service, said they "will address important issues raised about therule."The amendments would involve, among other things, more reliableinformationand more accurate maps for decision-making, she said, as well as provisions forworking with the states, tribes, local communities and the public.

"This administration is committed to providing roadless protection for ournational forests," Veneman said. "Conserving these precious lands requires aresponsible and balanced approach that fairly addresses concerns raised bylocalcommunities, tribes, and states impacted by the rule."

Through the actions, the Agriculture Department hopes to correct dataerrors and address concerns raised by the court, local communities, tribes andstate governments.It's unknown how long the new process will take, or if, any revisions areadopted.

Although the lands involved are designated as roadless, they containthousands of miles of trails now open to motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles,along with dirt roads that serve as feeders and connectors to those trails.Those roads also provide access to locations and trails used by hunters,fishermen, campers, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, mountain bikers, equestriansand hikers.

The roadless plan bans the construction of new roads on the 60 millionacres, but allows for maintenance and even reconstruction of existing roadsunder limited circumstances.

Even though the regulation states that "Nothing in this rule is intendedtoprohibit the authorized construction or maintenance of motorized ornon-motorized trails," the AMA has remained concerned that the rule could leadto widespread road and trail closures as feeder roads are not maintained.

The plan also remained highly controversial because of loggingrestrictions, and the U.S. Forest Service's last-minute decision to apply therules to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska beginning in April 2004.A total of six lawsuits were filed by states, tribes and variousinterestedparties challenging the rule.

Note: Thanks to the AMA for sending the above release.

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