If you liked the Carter Administrations RARE II Wilderness process and the Clinton/Gore Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, youll love the huge expansion of Wilderness areas the Administration will announce next week. It is really a West-wide Grand Staircase sneak attack. It will likely be one of the largest land grabs in recent history.
The Administration's effort to produce a new policy on the management of Forest Service roadless areas is nearing completion. This week, the Forest Service is trying to put the proposal into final form to present to the Agriculture Department. By next week, they will be trying to brief the Dept. of Justice and Council on Environmental Quality about what they propose to do.
You can expect an announcement around January 16th. Clinton/Gore assured Utah elected officials in 1996 that they were not planning any behind the scenes taking. Then they went back on their word and designated the national monument. Look for them to simply deny this Wilderness land grab. It worked once.
The details of what they are going to propose are incomplete, but it will likely involve a two-part initiative. Part One would be an interim policy directive which would impose a moratorium for the next two years on entering any "roadless areas" while a set of regulations is developed to govern roadless and "yet to be defined" special areas for the next generation of forest plans.
Roadless areas affected by this moratorium would include all inventoried roadless areas in the forest plans (i.e., 5,000 acres or more in size), as well as smaller areas in several categories to be described in the directive. You can forget all the Forest Plan Wilderness agreements. Forget Wilderness release language. Never mind all the public comment. Theyre going to take by Administrative fiat what they could not get through the process.
Look for areas to be included that do have roads. The Administration will simply ignore roads that, for example, are unmaintained by mechanical device. It will not be considered a road. The area will then qualify for the moratorium and ultimately as Wilderness. The Administration is only evaluating the effect on logging and is completely ignoring the effects on mining, recreation, grazing and other uses. You can go fishing and hunting someplace else.
The second part of the package would be an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on the roadless area policy that should govern the next round of forest plan revisions. The ANPR will invite the public to offer any comment they wish on roadless area management.
The advantage to the Administration of this approach is that they can do something as dramatic as a moratorium on roadless area entry without discharging their National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act analysis and environmental documentation responsibilities.
Anyone who litigates to challenge the interim moratorium will face Justice Department arguments that suggest to the Court that the appropriate remedy is participation in the ongoing rule making, rather than seeking judicial review of what they will describe as only a temporary measure.
How bad could this new RARE Wilderness Process be? It will be especially damaging in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and likely Alaska. All multiple-uses will be hard hit.
The interim moratorium will probably not redefine roadless areas as an initial matter. Therefore, only selected categories of areas of less than 5,000 acres (perhaps those immediately adjacent to designated wilderness) will be swept up in the interim policy. Others could be added later.
Of course, one favorite gambit for groups trying to carry out appeals will be to argue that a particular activity like grazing, mining and logging fall within the (probably vague) description of categories of smaller roadless areas that qualify for the moratorium. They can shut down everything.
At this point, there is apparently no interest on the part of the Forest Service, the Department of Agriculture, or the Administration in either: (1) working with Congress to develop this policy; or (2) even briefing key members of Congress before it is announced. Your congressman does not know about this.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO