SALT LAKE CITY — Environmental groups are assailing Gov. Gary Herbert after his administration on Thursday petitioned the federal government to craft a state-specific roadless rule for Utah.
The Center for Biological Diversity said Utah wants to "bulldoze" federal protections for forests by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to craft a roadless rule covering the state's 4 million forested acres.
“This would decimate habitat for Utah wildlife already struggling to survive,” said Randi Spivak, the center’s public lands director. “This is an incredibly cynical ploy to open up forests to road building and industrial logging. It’s not about forest health. It’s a horrible deal for Utah’s forests and citizens.”
Not true, countered Utah officials, noting that any management change would occur after an environmental review.
Jake Garfield, a policy analyst with the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, said the idea is to give the agency greater flexibility to restore forest health.
"It is not telling the Forest Service they need to construct new roads, or open old roads that have been closed," he has said previously.
Both Colorado and Idaho are seeking a state-specific amendment to the national roadless rule as well.
Herbert sought the solution on the heels of a summer that saw more than 1,300 wildfires ravaging homes, other structures, rangeland, livestock and watersheds and costing $42 million.5 comments on this story
Critics say amending the roadless rule won't solve the wildfire problem.
“A Utah-specific rule is a solution looking for a problem, and another sorry example in Utah’s love affair of building unnecessary roads for the sake of roads, at the expense of the ecological and recreational values of some of the most valuable and vulnerable landscapes in the state of Utah,” said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons.
Fisher pointed out the area of highest risk to Utah residents is the urban-wildland interface, not backcountry forests.