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Forest Service objects to travel management legislation

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) came out strongly in opposition to legislation that would restrict its ability to manage its roads. At a hearing on Tuesday, June 10 before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands & Environmental Regulation, USFS Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon said that the administration objects to the Forest Access in Rural Communities Act (H.R. 4272). The bill would stop USFS from implementing its Forest Service Travel Management Rule and require it to consult with local governments and communities when it writes rules regarding roads, trails and use of snowmobiles.

Currently, local USFS officials make the determinations. The bill would not allow it to to so unilaterally if the actions affected public access. It would require consultation with counties when performing environmental impact statements or environmental assessments affecting public access. Counties would get veto power over USFS decisions. The bill includes “affected counties” which can mean neighboring ones that the forests aren't even located in. No similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

Weldon testified that the current process already allows plenty of opportunity for public input. She said the legislation would impair USFS' ability to safely, efficiently and effectively manage its land. Weldon told the subcommittee that about 90 percent of national forests have already implemented the part of the rule requiring putting together a network of roads for motor vehicles and creating maps telling drivers where they can go. USFS expects all its units to complete the job by the end of the year.

She added that about 35 percent of the forests have done the required travel analysis already. USFS expects all of them to finish the job by the end of next year. USFS needs the authority to close roads during forest fires, to set weight and speed limits, she said.

USFS also worries that since the bill would only apply to “public domain” lands and not “acquired” land, it could result in inconsistent management, Weldon testified.