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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

The Roadless Rule

On January 12, 2001, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck signed into law the most widely supported federal policy in U.S. History, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

This reasonable and well-balanced rule protects the last remaining wild and intact 58.5 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands from road construction and most logging, drilling, and mining. Exceptions are made for extraordinary circumstances such as fighting fire, protecting public safety, and access to state and private lands. These last great wild places are enjoyed by millions of hikers, campers, hunters and anglers. They are some of the last remaining strongholds for grizzly bears, wolves, elk, salmon, and wild trout. And they are the purest sources of drinking water for tens of millions of Americans. The benefits of roadless areas are immeasurable.

The Roadless Rule, as adopted:

  • Protects 58.5 million acres of national forest land in 39 states, including intact old-growth temperate Rainforests in Alaskaís Tongass National Forest;

  • Maintains current public access and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing;

  • Preserves critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including more than 1,600 threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species;

  • Safeguards clean water from forest headwaters and streams, the source of drinking water for more than 60 million Americans;

  • Allows for actively managing lands, when necessary, to restore ecological processes, provide habitat for endangered species, or avert catastrophic wildfire; and

  • Maintains access to state and private property within national forests.

The Most Popular Federal Policy in US History

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was enacted following more than two decades of broad debate and three years of official review and public participation. More Americans took part in this rule-making process than in any other federal rule making in history.

The Forest Service held more than 600 public meetings and hearings throughout the country and received a record-breaking 1.7-million official comments: five times more comments than in any other federal rulemaking process. More than 95% of these comments supported the strongest possible protection for all of the nationís remaining roadless areas.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Never before have the American people so actively participated in helping to decide how their public lands should be managed."

Our Last Wild Forests at Risk

Just as the new rule was scheduled to take effect, the Bush administration moved to block it. First, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card froze its implementation. Already under fire for weakening clean air and water standards, the administration spent months formulating a strategy to undermine the rule without arousing the ire of the public that supported it.

They have attempted to implement this strategy by pledging to support "roadless values" in public while simultaneously failing to defend the rule in a lawsuit brought by the timber industry, and by issuing a steady stream of obscure regulatory changes that undermine the provisions of the Roadless Rule. In the past few months, the Bush administration has proposed scores of revisions to the regulations for implementing the laws that protect our national forests, including the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act, all of which would increase access by timber and mining companies and remove the American people from public land management decisions.

In a lawsuit brought by Boise Cascade, the largest purchaser of timber from national forests, the Bush administration abdicated their role as defendants in the suit, with the hopes of losing the case and blaming the reversal of the rule on the courts. On May 10, 2001 the administration and its corporate allies got their wish in the form of an injunction by Judge Edward Lodge of Idaho. A year later, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Lodgeís injunction, and the Roadless Area Conservation Rule again became law. New rulemaking will likely be announced in 2004 that re-writes the current rule itself and weakens or removes protections for roadless areas in the lower-48 states.

The key to the protection of our nationís last wild national forests continues to be the steadfast will of the owners of these lands - the American people.

Please join the Heritage Forests Campaign in ensuring that what remains of our wild forest heritage is protected...Forever.

Photos of Forests