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Wild Forest Protection: A Proud Legacy for Our Children

"We want the active and zealous help of every man far-sighted enough to realize the importance from the standpoint of the nation's welfare in the future of preserving the forests."

President Theodore Roosevelt; Creator of the Modern National Forest System

On January 12, 2001, culminating years of discussion and unprecedented public input, the US Forest Service issued the Roadless Area Conservation Policy, protecting the last 60 million acres of wild roadless areas in our National Forests from most logging and road building. This historic initiative stands as the most significant land conservation policy of the last 100 years.

The Roadless Area Conservation Policy:

  • Protects 58.5 million acres of National Forest land stretching over 39 states, including 9.3 million acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest;
  • Protects public access and opportunities for recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, in the most pristine parts of our National Forest system.
  • Provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including more than 1600 threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species
  • Safeguards the cleanest sources of drinking water for 60 million Americans; and
  • Allows for active management when the agency demonstrates a need to restore ecological processes, provide habitat for endangered species, or avert catastrophic wildfire.

Unprecedented Public Involvement
The Roadless Area Conservation Policy is the product of two decades of broad debate and three years of focussed discussion and public participation. More Americans have taken part in this rule-making process than in any other federal rule-making ever initiated.

The Forest Service has held over 600 public meetings and hearings on each National Forest and in each Forest Service region. During the official public comment period, a record-breaking 1.6 million Americans submitted official comments, more than 95% of which supported the strongest possible protection for 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."

Negligible Impact on Oil and Gas Production
A recent Department of Energy (DOE) study found that even after the long process of discovering, developing, and producing, there is a only a 5 percent chance that drillable parts of roadless areas would yield even a one-year supply of oil and gas for the nation. And DOE concluded there was a 95% chance that no more than a two-month supply of oil and gas for the nation could be recovered.

More than 50% of Forest Service lands, already serviced by roads and open for drilling, mining and logging, will remain so. The Roadless Area Conservation Policy allows access to areas currently leased for oil and gas, and grandfathers provisions for renewal of these leases. Forest Service lands are leased based on a nomination process by the industry, meaning the most economically developable areas are already under lease. Currently, just 0.4% of the nation's oil and gas come from National Forest lands.

Support for Protection Across the Board
A national survey by leading Republican pollster Linda DiVall found that 76% of Americans support the protection of roadless areas in our National Forests. Republicans support the proposal, by a 2-to-1 margin (62%-31%), and Westerners by a 3-to-1 margin (72%-24%). Among Democrats, 86% support the protection of the last wild, roadless National Forests. Seventy-eight percent of independents, 72% of seniors, and vast majorities from all regions of the country said they support the protection of roadless areas.

Polls conducted in 11 states revealed overwhelming support for protecting roadless areas. The surveys were conducted in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon, all states with large areas of roadless forests that would be protected under the plan.

In the past 2 years, more than 200 editorial writers from the nation's most prominent newspapers have written in favor of the Roadless Area Conservation Policy.

Support by Hunting and Fishing Community
A majority of America's 50 million hunters and anglers want existing roadless areas in National Forests to remain roadless, according to a recent national survey commissioned by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance. The survey found that 86% of anglers and 83% of hunters supported efforts to protect the remaining roadless areas in National Forests.

Faith Community Support for Protection
In July 2000, over 2000 leaders and individuals from many different parts of the U.S. religious community asked the Forest Service to fully protect all National Forest roadless areas. "The instruction to care for creation is found in Scripture as well as other religious and ethical teachings," the letter's 2000 signatories stated. "Moreover, it is often in wild places, such as pristine forests, that we encounter Creation's sheer magnificence. There, in awe and serenity, our hearts turn to God."

Scientific Support for Protection
In October 2000, 393 scientists from across the nation wrote, "In light of the irreplaceable functions these [roadless] areas serve, it is wise to provide them as much protection from development as possible."

Protection Best Averts Fire Risk
The scientific community has found that roadless areas are the least at risk for dangerous wildfires. Roadless areas are far more fire resistant than landscapes that have been crisscrossed with roads and logged, leaving behind slash, debris, and dense underbrush.

Roadless Policy Threatened by Roll-Back
Some are plotting to overturn this policy in order to appease those with economic or ideological interests in continuing to exploit our nation's last major roadless areas. Congress should respect the extensive public process that was used to reach this decision and oppose any effort to overturn or undermine the implementation of the roadless area protection plan.

Copyright 1998-2001 Heritage Forests Campaign. All Rights Reserved.