The Arizona Game and Fish Department is assisting Gov. Janet Napolitano in developing a petition to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, requesting specific management by the USDA Forest Service of some or all of 1.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in six national forests in Arizona.
The petition process is part of a revised Forest Service rule issued in 2005, allowing state governors to request specific management of inventoried roadless areas on national forest lands in their states.
Note: On Sept. 19, 2006, a federal judge in California issued a decision setting aside the 2005 rule and reinstating the original 2001 roadless rule described below. It is uncertain at this time what direction the USDA Forest Service will take on roadless area management in light of the decision, or how that will affect states that have either already submitted petitions or are in the process of developing petitions. At this time, Arizona is continuing the process of developing its petition.
Background on roadless area management
The Forest Service originally issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in January 2001. The rule essentially prohibited new road construction and timber harvest within 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on Forest Service lands across the country.
Several states filed lawsuits over the rule, and a federal court issued an injunction in 2003 prohibiting its implementation.
The Forest Service issued the revised rule in 2005 that allowed state governors to petition the Secretary of Agriculture with recommendations for specific management of inventoried roadless areas in their states. All states choosing to submit a petition were to do so by Nov. 13, 2006. It is uncertain at this time how the Sept. 19 federal court ruling will affect that process.
Activities permitted by the original Roadless Rule
The original 2001 Roadless Rule conserves roadless values while allowing for current public access and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. The rule allows for management of habitat for more than 1,500 species of fish and wildlife, including threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species, and for protection of clean water from forest headwaters and streams.
The rule also allows construction of temporary roads under specified circumstances, such as to fight forest fires or to implement actions that reduce the risk of wildfire for public safety and resource purposes. The rule doesn’t change state or private landowners' rights to access their land. The management of any existing roads within the inventoried roadless areas will be evaluated during the transportation planning process associated with the future revision of individual forest land management plans.
Arizona’s petition process
The Arizona Game and Fish Department began conducting the public input phase of the petition process in late June. Written comment was accepted through Aug. 31, and a series of 13 informational open house meetings were held around the state in July and August. The public comment period and meetings were publicized through department e-newsletters, e-mail notifications to stakeholder groups, and news releases to state and local media.
The department has consolidated and forwarded the public comment to the Governor’s office and has started on the initial phase of the petition draft. At this time, Arizona is still planning on submitting its petition by the Nov. 13 due date.
For more information
Maps showing inventoried roadless areas in Arizona can be downloaded as PDF files from the column at right. More information can also be found on the U.S. Forest Service roadless area Web site at roadless.fs.fed.us. Future updates on Arizona’s petition process will be posted to the department’s Web site at azgfd.gov/roadless.