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The Roadless Rule
Threats to Roadless Areas
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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

In This Section

" Introduction

" Repeal of the Roadless Rule

" Americans Unite to Reinstate Protections

" Promises Made, Promises Broken

" Cutting into America's Last Intact National Forests

" Focus on Four States:

" Additional Roadless Area Incursions

" Print-Quality Photos

" Press Release


How the Bush Administration Has Broken its Pledge for Interim Protection of America's Last Wild Forests

Download this report as a PDF, with sources and citations [2.4 megs].


Despite assurances to the contrary, the Forest Service has begun to move forward with logging, mining, road construction, and other activities within intact roadless areas of national forests whose status is still under dispute.

Around the country, projects have been proposed that would build roads into or log and mine once-protected roadless areas. One project has already built roads through the Sage Creek Roadless Area in Idaho to explore for phosphate. Other proposed projects include oil and gas drilling in Colorado and Utah and logging and road construction in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

To highlight the danger posed by this Bush administration policy, the Heritage Forest Campaign is providing details on some of the most egregious incursions into previously protected roadless areas. This includes ongoing projects in:

The Repeal of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule

In May of 2005, the Bush administration repealed the most popular federal rule in U.S. history, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001, replacing it with, arguably, the most unpopular.

The product of decades of work and millions of public comments, the 2001 rule protected the last intact and roadless 58.5 million acres of the national forest system from most road construction, logging, mining, and other destructive activities, while leaving the areas open to a wide range of recreational opportunities.

In place of the strong protections of the 2001 rule, the administration put into place a burdensome and uncertain process. Instead of strong, clear federal protections, this new process requires individual governors to develop and submit petitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in order for the roadless areas in their states to remain protected from development.

These petitions are then subject to review by an advisory committee appointed by the USDA, with final recommendations being submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture for consideration. However the secretary is not bound in any way by the recommendations of the committee and ultimately has discretion to accept, reject, or modify a state-based petition and then submit it for federal rulemaking.

Americans Unite in Effort to Reinstate Forest Protections

Over the past year, opposition to the Bush administration's repeal and substitute rule has taken many forms and continues to grow.

Attorneys general from six states Washington, California, Oregon, Montana, Maine, and New Mexico have joined in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the repeal and substitute rule. Additionally, even though they object to the Forest Service's uncertain process, many of the governors of the above states have joined with other governors from around the nation in filing or announcing their intentions to file petitions for the complete protection of roadless areas in their states.

Indeed, several of these governors had previously requested that the administration abbreviate the process by allowing their states to reinstate the 2001 protections without conducting an elaborate petition procedure. Those requests were denied.

In addition to efforts by the states and their governors, citizens from across America have united to reinstate strong protections for our last pristine national forests. Twenty conservation organizations have filed their own suit claiming that the 2001 rule was illegally reversed, and in late February 2006, more than a quarter of a million Americans filed a formal petition under the Administrative Procedures Act requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture reinstate the original rule.

Promises Made, Promises Broken

When the Bush administration published its subsitute rule in the Federal Register, great efforts were made to depict the action as still protecting roadless areas, while allowing more "flexibility." Indeed, according to a USDA press statement made on May 5, 2005, the rule would "advance President Bush's commitment to cooperatively conserve inventoried roadless areas within our national forests."

According to Undersecretary of Agriculture, Mark Rey:

[T]he reality on the ground tomorrow will remain the same as it was yesterday. These areas will remain protected by the interim directive, and that will continue to be so as we move, hopefully, with some alacrity to develop state-specific rules and bring this issue to closure after all these years.

In a letter to the editor dated September 9, 2005, and published in the New York Times on September 15, the undersecretary criticized the Times for an editorial supporting the multi-state lawsuit, stating:

The lawsuit you mention is unfortunate and unnecessary. We are providing interim protection to roadless areas, pending the development of state-specific rules provided for in our 2005 rulemaking.

Thus, the Bush administration has repeatedly assured the public that roadless areas would remain protected until the state petition process was complete. Yet, as the case studies in this report will illustrate, these assurances are misleading and untrue.

Next: Cutting Into Our Last Intact National Forests»

Photos of Forests