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Know the West

Roadless: The prologue


I agree that tactics on both sides of the roadless issue have fouled the process and the intent of law (HCN, 11/9/09). To fully understand this matter, though, I think it's important to go back to the RARE1 and RARE2 (Roadless Area Review) processes of the 1970s and 1980s, meant to identify potential wilderness areas of 5,000 acres or more.

Wilderness has always had an uphill battle in the Forest Service, more so in the 1970s than today, and the RARE exercises demonstrated this fact. I’d been in the Forest Service for only a few years when RARE began, and I followed closely the work of the first actual planner on our forest (that I was aware of) as he conducted the RARE inventory. Groaning and moaning from forest staff carried the day, as many of them sought to maintain status quo roads everywhere "so people can use their forests."

When wilderness bills passed in the 1980s (by state), many inventoried roadless areas were left out because they "did not meet wilderness criteria." For example, they were vast tracts of flat, pinon-juniper lands or high desert that many FS staffers of the time did not envision as true wilderness. Inventoried areas that didn’t make it into the wilderness system were tracked for years and years, ostensibly to allow possible consideration for wilderness status at some later date. Each year, the agency reported whether or not there'd been motorized intrusions into the area, and whether roads now existed. And that, as I understand it, is how we got to where Ray started his story.
John Nelson
Flagstaff, Arizona