The Obama administration announced on Thursday that it is delaying a decision on policy that guides the construction of new roads and other development in areas of national forests for one year. An interim directive will guide land use in roadless areas in the meantime.
The new directive, issued by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will require his approval for any U.S. Forest Service projects on public lands that have been declared off-limits for development under the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The administration will hold off on long-term decisions on the policy until 2010.
The so-called “Roadless Rule,” which the Clinton administration put in place during its final days in office in 2000, prohibited new roads on 58.5 million acres of national forest land. This essentially meant all logging, mining, and other commercial activity were also off-limits. But on his first day in office, George Bush temporarily froze work on implementing the rule; he repeatedly attempted to throw it out over the course of the next 8 years and undermined it by exempting large areas of land from its protections. The rule has been caught up in legal wrangling ever since.
“This interim directive will provide consistency and clarity that will help protect our national forests until a long-term roadless policy reflecting President Obama’s commitment is developed,” said Vilsack in a statement announcing the temporary directive.
Vilsack will still be able to approve projects if he and the Forest Service determine them to be necessary. And if the administration does not reach a long-term decision on the rule within the next year, the temporary directive can be extended for another year. Today’s announcement also doesn’t include public lands in Idaho, which has instated its own version of the rule.
On the campaign trail, Obama promised to uphold the law, so today’s news comes as a first step in fulfilling that promise, though most enviros would like to see the rule reinstated entirely.
“Secretary Vilsack’s directive is a critical interim measure to ensure that we safeguard the diverse values of our national forests as the Obama administration considers more permanent protections,” said Sierra Club Public Lands Protection Program director Athan Manuel in a statement.