Forest Service Roadless Areas:

Potential Impact of Proposed Regulations on Ecological Sustainability

GAO-01-47: Published: Nov 8, 2000. Publicly Released: Nov 20, 2000.

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The Forest Service manages about 192 million acres of land that make up the National Forest System. The agency has proposed to make ecological sustainability its top priority in an attempt to sustain a flow of products, services, and values from the national forests and grasslands. One of the most debated issues is the role of roads, especially in areas that are now roadless. This report summarizes GAO's findings on how the potential roadless rule will affect the Forest Service's ability to meet its goals of restoring and maintaining ecological sustainability. GAO found that building roads in national forests can have both positive and negative effects. Road construction can alter a forest's ecosystem by facilitating timber harvesting and disturbing wildlife. However, roads can be used to repair environmental damage done by other activities. Forest Service officials at the 10 National forests that GAO reviewed provided general observations on the proposed rule. In GAO's view, the proposed rule would have little effect on forest management efforts because there was no plan to build roads in roadless areas unless it was determined that doing so would restore the forest's ecosystem.

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