As expected, on February 28, the State of Utah submitted its petition to the U.S. Forest Service requesting that the Forest Service implement a rulemaking to drastically roll back protections for National Forests under the 2001 Roadless Rule.
The Roadless Rule has been important for protecting outdoor recreation. While roadless areas are protected from new development, their management is less restrictive than in Wilderness, which gives important middle ground for many kinds of recreation, from mountain biking to motorized use.
Under the state’s petition, 9% of Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) would be released from protections entirely, while another 79% would have their protections from logging drastically reduced under a new proposed “Utah Roadless Area” category. Just 12% of existing areas would retain their current protections, and, in contrast to state-specific rules in Idaho and Colorado, no areas would be given heightened protections.
According to analysis from Outdoor Alliance’s GIS Lab, the proposal would roll back or eliminate protections for:
Nearly 80% of currently protected backcountry skiing
More than 50% of currently protected climbing
79% of the state’s currently protected paddling
79% of the state’s currently protected hiking and mountain biking
The petition is also remarkably cursory—just four pages of text, followed by tables of areas proposed for reduced or eliminated protections. Other than a broad assertion of the need to engage in more active forest management (i.e., logging), there is little connection between the proposed changes and the problem they purport to address. There is also no site-specific analysis whatsoever with regard to the areas the state proposes to open up.
Our expectation is that the Forest Service will, at minimum, request some substantial revision—and more opportunities for public engagement—before accepting the petition. We’ll be sharing a more detailed critique with the Forest Service soon, as well as more opportunities to get involved. Sign up below to learn more about protecting Utah’s roadless forests: