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Thursday, May 24 2007

Brandon MacGillis, National Environmental Trust, 202-887-8800
Jennifer Stephens, The Wilderness Society, 206-624-6430 x 224
Caitlin Hills, American Lands Alliance, 202-547-9105
Christy Goldfuss, USPIRG, 202-546-9707

House and Senate Introduce Legislation to Protect Our Natural Heritage

As Millions of Americans Prepare to Spend their Memorial Day Weekend in Our National Forests, Congress Unites in a Bi-Partisan Effort to Protect Those Areas for Future Generations

WASHINGTON, D.C. More than 140 House Democrats and Republicans, led by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Christopher Shays (R-CT), George Miller (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) introduced legislation today that would provide permanent protection for 58.5 million acres of pristine forest land in 39 states. This would include 9.3 million acres of North America's only coastal temperate rainforest Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John Warner (R-VA), along with 16 of their colleagues, introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

"We commend these members for their leadership in protecting our last wild forests," said Robert Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "With the administration determined to undermine the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and moving forward with plans that would place our last pristine forests at risk, congressional action to stop these efforts could not be more timely."

In May 2005, the Bush administration repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, placing millions of acres of national forest land at risk of road construction, commercial logging, oil and gas drilling and mining exploration. However, a recent ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court has found the administration's repeal illegal and has reinstated the 2001 roadless rule as the law of the land. The Bush administration, along with the timber industry, filed an appeal challenging this judgment on April 9, 2007, with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The Bush administration continues to promote dangerous activities in roadless areas," said US PIRG Forests Advocate Christy Goldfuss. "Fortunately, the administration may not get the last word. The American people have called for protections for our last wild places, the courts have upheld those protections, and now Congress wants to make those protections permanent. "

The rule was approved in January 2001 following years of scientific study, more than 600 public hearings across the country, and 1.6 million official public comments. While protecting the last one-third of our threatened national forests from most logging and road-building, the rule allows new roads to be constructed in order to fight fires and ensure public health and safety.

"Roadless forests are vital to maintaining viable populations of wildlife, especially large carnivores such as wolves and grizzly bears. These forests, where much of our remaining old growth is found, also play an important role in the fight against global warming by removing huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere," says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The National Forest System contains over 380,000 miles of roads and 60,000 miles of unmapped logging roads, enough to circle the globe 17 times. Only 21 percent of these roads meet adequate road maintenance standards. The current road maintenance backlog is estimated at $10 billion, with 16 states maintaining a backlog of $100 million each.

"Today's congressional action is supported by businesses, academics, leaders of the faith community, labor unions and sportsmen. They simply understand that protecting our remaining wild forests and the clean water, wildlife habitat and outstanding backcountry recreation they hold help to create more jobs and economic benefits than taxpayer-subsidized commercial logging," said Sean Cosgrove of the Sierra Club.

"This legislation will protect some of the last truly wild, roadless lands in America. We are very grateful to the sponsors for advocating for the protection of these lands for our children and all future generations," said Caitlin Love Hills, director of the National Forest Program at the American Lands Alliance

"Congressional efforts today represent the will of the American people and sound science ensuring a natural legacy for future generations to enjoy," said Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

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The Heritage Forests Campaign is an alliance of conservationists, wildlife advocates, clergy, educators, scientists, and other Americans who are working together to uphold protection of our National Forests.

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