TU Applauds Final Forest Service Roadless Policy…
…and Calls on Bush Administration to Support It
1/5/2001 — — Contact:
Steve Moyer, Vice President for Conservation Programs, Trout Unlimited: (703) 284-9406
January 5, 2001. Arlington, VA. . .Trout Unlimited applauded the Forest Service for finalizing new policies to improve protection of roadless areas, many of which provide some of the best remaining trout and salmon habitat in the U.S. The final roadless policy was announced today by Forest Service Chief, Mike Dombeck, and President Clinton. It will go into effect in 60 days.
The policy moves the agency in a positive direction toward solving one of its longstanding, vexing problems: what to do about the huge problems caused by environmentally damaging roads in our National Forests. “Mike Dombeck and the Clinton Administration are making a courageous step that will help protect trout and salmon-sustaining watersheds nationwide,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s Vice President for Conservation Programs.
TU also called on the incoming Bush Administration to support the policy. “It is totally appropriate for the new Administration to carefully review the new policy, as they have said they will do. If they do an objective review, they will see a policy that has broad public support and great benefits for the nation’s fisheries resources, water quality and the communities that depend on them,” said Moyer.
The main feature of the new policy is that it prohibits construction of roads into roadless areas, with limited exceptions for public safety and national security. The policy still allows access to roadless areas for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat management to be managed by the local forest officials, as has always been the case.
Excessive siltation from runoff from poorly designed and poorly maintained roads is one of the worst sources of non-point pollution on federal lands. The silt smothers trout and salmon spawning habitat and decreases stream productivity. Forest roads also speed runoff velocities, increasing channelization of streams and streambank erosion, and raising surface water temperatures. All of these things are damaging to trout and salmon habitat.
Moyer said the new policy would be especially helpful in the National Forests of the West, which has 35 species of trout and salmon federally listed as threatened or endangered. With over 400,000 miles of roads already existing in our National Forests, and maintenance and reconstruction backlogs documented at $8.4 billion, the new roadless policy makes sense.
“The stage is set now for the Forest Service, Congress and the Bush Administration to focus on the real road problems on the National Forests, fixing poorly maintained roads and eliminating, where appropriate, watershed-killing roads that can’t be fixed,” said Moyer. “There are many old, outmoded roads in the National Forest system that cause great environmental harm that need to be eliminated. Congress ought to appropriate the money that the agency needs to improve maintenance and eliminate unfixable roads, and should work with the Forest Service to ensure that those funds are spent well.”
Reasons Why the Roadless Initiative Is Good Policy
By Trout Unlimited’s Montana Council
Fishery and hydrological scientists overwhelmingly conclude that roads on public lands are seriously harming native fish and their habitat, and that they are contributing to the disappearance of important commercial and sport species.
Peer-reviewed scientific studies from the Forest Service’s Interior Columbia River Basin plan conclude that:
- Increasing road density and management intensity are correlated with declining pool frequency and increased fine sediments in streams. Pools are important winter and foraging habitat. Sediment from roads fills pools and smothers spawning gravels. Thus, roads are harming critical elements of aquatic habitat.
- Increases in sedimentation are unavoidable even using the most cautious road methods. Thus, “no roads” is infinitely more protective for fish than roads built with nominal “best management practices.”
- In streams in most unmanaged areas (ie., roadless areas), pool habitat has been retained or improved during the last 55-60 years. Thus roadless areas have high-quality habitat for fish.
- Roadless core areas with healthy aquatic habitat are sources for restoring functional aquatic systems. That is, in order to rebuild important populations of disappearing native fish such as bull trout, steelhead, cutthroat and salmon, we need to first protect the best habitat, such as in roadless areas, then restore the damaged habitat. Thus, roadless areas are important anchors upon which recovery of endangered species can revolve.
If Montanans, including representatives from the extractive industries, want to avoid endangered species listings and protect our fishery heritage, then they should support roadless area protection. Many of Montana’s most important sport fisheries, especially those with native fish, depend on the cool, clean water flowing from roadless country as well as the important spawning and rearing habitat they provide. For example:
- The South Fork of the Flathead has perhaps the state’s strongest populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Most of the watershed is roadless (mainly in the Bob Marshall Wilderness).
- The Blackfoot drainage has some of the healthiest populations of migratory bull and cutthroat trout in Montana. The three most important spawning tributaries for bull trout are Monture Creek, the North Fork and the Landers Fork. Large portions of these watersheds are roadless. Bull trout are uncommon in heavily roaded drainages of the Blackfoot drainage.
- Rock Creek is one of the state’s most popular wild trout fisheries. Approximately half of the watershed is roadless. Biologists have found that most of the important spawning and rearing areas for bull trout are in waters flowing through roadless areas, such as the Quigg Peak and Stony Mountain areas.
- Many of the healthiest populations of westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout found in the middle reaches of the Clark Fork watershed are found in headwater areas of the Great Burn roadless area, including in Cache Creek and the North and West Forks of Fish Creek.
- Studies indicate that the tributaries of the Bitterroot River with relict bull trout populations are either roadless or in wilderness. The stream reaches without bull trout and with few cutthroat trout are those that have been roaded and developed.
- The majority of the remaining pure-strain native westslope cutthroats in the upper Missouri drainage, where these fish hang on by a thread, are in roadless areas found along the Rocky Mountain Front, in the Elkhorns, in the upper Big Hole watershed, and in the roadless fragments found near the Continental Divide.
- Most of Montana’s famous freestone trout streams have important portions of their watersheds in roadless conditions, including the Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone, Rock Creek, and Big Hole drainages. The relationship is not incidental. Fishery scientists have found the healthiest habitat and cleanest water in the tributaries with the fewest roads.
- Most of the streams in western Montana with poor fisheries are also those with heavy forest road densities, such as the Fisher River, Thompson River, Stillwater River, Whitefish River, Lolo Creek, and the Bull River. Fishery strongholds in these drainages are generally found only in small, isolated roadless sites.
When roadless areas are protected, fish are protected and thus an important economic resource is protected. For example:
- The American Sportfishing Institute has documented the loss of 50,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industries in the past 12 years. Part of that loss, according to fishery scientists, can be attributed to declining fishery habitat on National Forests where roads and road-related development have been identified as primary culprits.
- In 1996, anglers spent 46.8 million days fishing on National Forests, generating some $8.5 billion annually for local economies. This indicates that more roads aren’t necessary for accessing this type of recreation.
- Angling in Montana is estimated to contribute some $300 million annually to the state’s economy. Most of this activity targets coldwater species, mainly trout. The majority of trout angling occurs in watersheds with important roadless remnants, which scientists indicate are important for maintaining fishery populations.
The timber industry itself admits that roads harm water quality and fish:
- The core commitments in Plum Creek’s proposed habitat conservation plan (HCP) for native fish on its lands involve reducing sediment from roads and improving passage barriers, mainly road culverts. In its proposed HCP, Plum Creek admits that many of its roads put sediment in streams and harm fish.
- The main focus of Montana’s “best management practices” for forestry activities are strategies that aim to reduce sediment produced from roads. The timber industry in its ads, speeches and lobbying repeatedly cites its attempts to reduce impacts from roads on water quality and fish as a demonstration that it is trying to protect the environment. It admits that roads are harmful. Despite these modest improvements in roading practices, fisheries in roaded areas are still declining.
Montana’s congressional members, including those opposing the roadless initiative, provide compelling arguments why new roadbuilding is a bad idea:
- In his arguments opposing the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), which would provide funding for purchasing important conservation lands, Sen. Burns said the federal government shouldn’t acquire new lands “when we don’t properly care for what we already have.” (see Sen. Burns’ editorial in the 6/18/2000 Billings Gazette). Rep. Hill has made similar arguments. The Forest Service estimates it would cost about $8-10 billion to fix and properly maintain its badly deteriorating 386,000-mile road system. Thus, it doesn’t make any economic or ecological sense to build new roads.
For more information, contact Bruce Farling, Executive Director, Montana Trout Unlimited, at (406) 543-0054.