USA — California and other states that want to ban road-building in largeswaths of national forests should have to pay for the resulting increased costsof fighting wildfires on those federal lands, U.S. Agriculture UndersecretaryMark Rey said Thursday.
Rey, the undersecretary for natural resources and the environment in chargeof the U.S. Forest Service, said the Bush administration has encouraged statesand local governments to offer input in the management of federal lands.
But he told a Wildland Urban Interface conference that one of the unintendedconsequences is that state-imposed moratoriums on development in roadless areasboost the cost of fighting fires because of reduced access to housingsubdivisions that sprout up on the edge of those forests.
“In a number of cases, most recently in the state of California, thestates have weighed in with a profound desire not to see any roadless areaincurred as a broad matter of environmental priorities. And I frankly don’t haveany quarrel with that as a statement of environmental policy,” Rey said.
“However, if we are going to keep those areas completely undeveloped andnot even maintain the option for access for administrative and suppressionpurposes, we’re going to increase the cost and complexity of suppression toprotect those new subdivisions. That’s a given with which their is almost nodispute,” he said in a speech to the conference in Reno sponsored by theInternational Association of Fire Chiefs.
“I for one am completely willing to defer to a state’s views in thisarea as long as the state is willing to pick up the additional costs associatedwith those views being converted into federal land policy,” he said.
The state of California filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service last monthfor adopting a management plan that would allow for the construction of roadsand oil drilling in California’s largest national forests.
The lawsuit filed in federal court claims the plan ignores a state moratoriumon road construction in pristine areas of national forests and asks for aninjunction.
The Forest Service plan would open up more than 500,000 acres in the Angeles,Los Padres, Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests to road construction.It would also allow for oil drilling on more than 52,000 acres in or around LosPadres National Forest.
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said in filing the lawsuit onFeb. 28 that the federal plan was unacceptable at a time when these forests werealready under threat by development and pollution, and are some of the lastnatural lands available to millions of Californians. The forests are in or nearLos Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties and arethe most urban-impacted forests in the National Forest system.
“As California gets millions more people and more pollutants impactthese forests … to compound the damage that already exists with roads and morevehicles and more industrial activity is just wrong,” Brown said.