The making of a Roadless Initiative

Published May 1, 2000

Forestry subcommittee investigators probing the development of the Clinton-Gore administration’s “Roadless Initiative” have pieced together an incriminating timeline of events, from the Forest Service’s first efforts in early 1999 to change road policy through President Clinton’s announcement of the Roadless Initiative in his State of the Union address on January 27.

The documents supplied to subcommittee investigators by the Clinton-Gore administration suggest that only the Heritage Forests Campaign and its immediate associates had input into the development of the roadless policy. Indeed, there is no evidence in those documents that other organizations were made or ever became aware that the policy’s development was taking place.

The following timeline presents only the highlights in the secret birth of the Roadless Initiative. According to the committee’s report, other meetings and conversations were taking place between the “environmentalists” and administration officials.

January 28, 1999. The Forest Service posts an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register, stating it intends to establish an 18-month moratorium on road construction in National Forests while it develops an overall policy on road management.

February 12, 1999. A Final Interim Rule is published in the Federal Register, initiating the 18-month construction moratorium to run from March 1, 1999 through August 2000.

March 15, 1999. The Heritage Forests Campaign (HFC) et al. send a letter to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, urging him to provide protection for roadless areas separately from the development of an overall policy concerning roads.

May 5, 1999. HFC et al. provide the Forest Service with a legal analysis outlining what they believe is the legal authority for the Executive Branch to act, without Congress, to protect roadless areas.

May 14, 1999. HFC et al. send a letter to George Frampton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), urging him to have the Forest Service deal with roadless area protection separately from the development of an overall forests roads policy.

May 27, 1999. Forest Service circulates its first internal memo indicating the possibility of developing a separate track for the roadless area plan, as suggested by HFC.

June 1999. Throughout the month HFC promotes its poll showing public support for protection of roadless areas. The poll was conducted by the President’s pollster, the Mellman Group.

June 2, 1999. HFC et al. meet with CEQ Director Frampton.

June 9, 1999. Internal Forest Service e-mails suggest that a roadless “political statement” not be made through forest plans.

July 6, 1999. HFC et al. meet again with CEQ’s Frampton.

July 9, 1999. Mike Francis of the Wilderness Society and HFC et al. send a letter to Frampton, responding to his request for an analysis to support the “legal feasibility of adopting a long-term roadless area policy.”

July 9, 1999. The Wilderness Society provides, on the same day, a draft memo on roadless areas for Dombeck to send to President Clinton.

July 28, 1999. Dombeck sends a draft memo to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman outlining a proposed strategy to continue with road management policy development while initiating a separate roadless area protection proposal.

July 29, 1999. HFC et al meet with the President’s chief of staff, John Podesta, to recommend that the roadless area plan be separated from forest and forest road planning so that it may be moved forward more rapidly.

August 4, 1999. Frampton sends a memo to Podesta recommending that the White House accept the splitting off and moving forward with the roadless plan, as recommended by HFC et al.

August 18, 1999. White House sends note to CEQ informing them of HFC advertising and public relations campaign to promote the roadless area initiative. Committee investigators found a flurry of e-mails between HFC et al. and Clinton-Gore administration officials throughout August, coordinating the promotional effort.

August 30, 1999. Forest Service sends requests for data to its field office. Many respond that the time allowed to compile the information requested means the result will be very rough and not necessarily reliable for planning.

September 9, 1999. Faxes pass between CEQ and Forest Service discussing “unresolved issues on roadless” and the “further refinement of the ‘preferred alternative.'”

October 12, 1999. Forest Service sends a note to the administration telling it to say that the administration, through the Department of Agriculture, is directing the Forest Service to develop a plan for its roadless area initiative.

October 13,1999. Announcement of the roadless area protection initiative is made public in a memorandum from President Clinton to the Secretary of Agriculture, mirroring The Wilderness Society draft memo of July 9, directing the Forest Service to study and develop plans for his roadless initiative.

October 18, 1999. Administration coordinates a public relations campaign with the administration.

October 22, 1999. Memo from HFC recommends the roadless initiative be included in President Clinton’s State of the Union Address.

October 28, 1999. With rumors flying about an expansive, yet largely secretive, roadless plan in the air, Environment & Climate News meets with the Forest Service’s top assistant chief, Chris Wood. We are told that the roadless plan study is only beginning, with the President’s directive only made two weeks earlier, and that “roadless areas” and “roads” had not even been defined. Wood promised to send data showing the need for roadless areas, which was never received in spite of numerous follow-up calls. In fact, the roadless initiative was virtually finalized prior to the meeting. [See “Roadless plan gathers steam,” Environment & Climate News, April 2000.]

January 27, 2000. “Preserving 40 million roadless acres,” is a key feature of President Clinton’s State of the Union Address.