The government calls them ghost roads - 60,000 miles of unauthorized pathways that twist through national forests.
Republicans in Congress want the Forest Service to get rid of the ghost roads - or reconstruct them to approved standards - before wiping out any of the other 373,000 miles of roads in national forests.But the Clinton administration and environmentalists disagree, saying that some of the authorized and federally maintained roads may be doing far more damage to the environment.
Rod Klawitter of Estacada, Ore., said the Forest Service is wrong to remove more than 105 miles of authorized roads in the Mount Hood National Forest. He says that will just inconvenience hunters, not help the environment.
The road deconstruction projects "and the attitudes that generate and drive them are a detriment to our lifestyle and heritage, our health and our homes," Klawitter, president of the Western Wildlife Sportsman Association, said at a House subcommittee hearing last week.
But the Forest Service said it needs to focus on roads that are the most damaging. Forcing it to tackle the ghost roads first "would drain funding from fixing roads that are causing the most environmental degradation," said Robert Joslin, deputy chief of the national forest system.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, whose department includes the Forest Service, said forest managers would be forced to spend their dollars on insignificant roads. "This language is highly objectionable because it would prevent the obliteration of the most environmentally damaging roads," Glickman said.
Forest Service officials say they don't even know where to find many of the roads - hence their "ghost" name.
The Forest Service will remove about 1,500 miles of road this year by taking out culverts and planting vegetation on the pathways. Federal agencies typically spend $2 million to $3 million each year for the removals.