Obama Keeps Roads Out of National Forests — For a Time

Paved roads are a fact of life in most of the country, but should they be permitted in the nation’s protected forest areas? The Obama administration says no, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack affirmed today in a directive that prohibits road construction in nearly 50 million acres of forest land.

copper_river_highway_10404.jpgAlaska’s Copper River Highway runs through forest land. (Photo: alaska-in-pictures.com)

As the Associated Press reports, the most immediate impact of Vilsack’s move will come in Alaska, where the Tongass National Forest was poised for a road-building project linked to new logging. But preserving roadless forests is a hot issue all across the west, particularly in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has sought to keep roads out of three national forests that are close to the Los Angeles metro area.

It’s important to note, though, that Vilsack’s directive is only in place for a year — meaning that roadless forests won’t be assured protection unless Congress steps in to pass the bills sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).

And for anyone wondering whether keeping roads out of forests is a local issue, check out the Forest Service’s list of pavement-free zones in each state. You may be surprised to know how many protected areas there are.

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