WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that he is renewing an interim directive regarding inventoried roadless areas within the National Forests and Grasslands for an additional year.

"While the courts continue to wrestle with roadless policy, I will continue to work with the USDA Forest Service to ensure we protect roadless areas on our National Forests," said Secretary Vilsack.  "Renewing this interim directive reflects President Obama's commitment to protecting our forests by ensuring that all projects in roadless areas receive a higher level of scrutiny."  

 The directive provides decision-making authority to the Secretary over proposed forest management or road construction projects in inventoried roadless areas. Because the Courts are divided on the legality of the 2001 Rules, this directive ensures a consistent national review of all proposed projects. Last summer, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule.  The Rule is currently under appeal in the 10th Circuit.  A decision on that case could come any day.

  The revised interim directive does not require secretarial approval for activities such as emergency fire-fighting activities, and small diameter timber cutting to improve endangered species habitat and to reduce risk of catastrophic wildlfire.  These activities were also exempted under the previous interim directive and are consistent with the 2001 roadless rule.

 This interim directive does not affect roadless areas on National Forest System lands in Idaho.  Idaho developed its own roadless rule through the Administrative Procedures Act - the rule provides strong protections for roadless areas.

 Under the previous interim directive, which sunsets today, Vilsack approved 21 projects, all of which are consistent with the provisions of the 2001 roadless rule.  These projects allowed, for example, forest restoration activities near towns, moving a trailhead and campground location, mine clean-up, and drilling methane wells for a pre-existing coal mine.  Twelve approved projects allowed mineral exploration activities under the 1872 General Mining Law; these projects are required to proceed by statute. 

The Obama Administration has called for Congress to modernize the General Mining Law in a manner consistent with the needs of mining and the protection of the public, our public lands, and water resources.  Given the absence of discretion regarding projects subject to the 1872 law, the revised interim directive does not require Secretarial approval for these projects but instead instructs Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman to work with the Forest Service to minimize the impacts from such activities.

This revised interim directive will last for one year.

SOURCE: USDA.