Fed official: States that back roadless forests should pay for fire costs | SierraSun.com

Fed official: States that back roadless forests should pay for fire costs

Scott Sonner, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) ” California and other states that want to ban road-building in large swaths of national forests should have to pay for the resulting increased costs of fighting wildfires on those federal lands, U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said today.

Rey, the undersecretary for natural resources and the environment in charge of the U.S. Forest Service, said the Bush administration has encouraged states and local governments to offer input in the management of federal lands.

But he told a Wildland Urban Interface conference that one of the unintended consequences is that state-imposed moratoriums on development in roadless areas boost the cost of fighting fires because of reduced access to housing subdivisions that sprout up on the edge of those forests.

“In a number of cases, most recently in the state of California, the states have weighed in with a profound desire not to see any roadless area incurred as a broad matter of environmental priorities. And I frankly don’t have any quarrel with that as a statement of environmental policy,” Rey said.

“However, if we are going to keep those areas completely undeveloped and not even maintain the option for access for administrative and suppression purposes, we’re going to increase the cost and complexity of suppression to protect those new subdivisions. That’s a given with which their is almost no dispute,” he said in a speech to the conference in Reno sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“I for one am completely willing to defer to a state’s views in this area as long as the state is willing to pick up the additional costs associated with those views being converted into federal land policy,” he said.

The state of California filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service last month for adopting a management plan that would allow for the construction of roads and oil drilling in California’s largest national forests.

The lawsuit filed in federal court claims the plan ignores a state moratorium on road construction in pristine areas of national forests and asks for an injunction.

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 Los Padres National Forest.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said in filing the lawsuit on Feb. 28 that the federal plan was unacceptable at a time when these forests were already under threat by development and pollution, and are some of the last natural lands available to millions of Californians. The forests are in or near Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties and are the most urban-impacted forests in the National Forest system.

“As California gets millions more people and more pollutants impact these forests … to compound the damage that already exists with roads and more vehicles and more industrial activity is just wrong,” Brown said.