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January 12, 2009

Elyssa Rosen 775.224.7497

Pew, Conservationists Call on President-elect Obama to Implement Roadless Rule

Lawmakers join in urging suspension of road-building in undeveloped forests

UPDATE: Download the audio from a telebriefing with Rep. Grijalva, former Forest Service Chief and Green Group leaders

WASHINGTON Amid growing pressure to drill and develop some of the nation's most pristine national forests, public officials and environmental leaders today called on President-elect Barack Obama to take swift action to implement the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The landmark measure, which was issued eight years ago today, protects more than 58 million acres of undeveloped forestland in 38 states.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, the Pew Environment Group, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups also asked the incoming Obama administration to suspend road-building, drilling and other industrial activity in national forests that would violate the rule until it can be fully implemented.

"A century ago, our national forest system was created by President Theodore Roosevelt as a legacy for future generations," said Rep. Grijalva. "I know my colleagues in Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are looking forward to working with our new president to make sure that these forests remained protected through the roadless rule."

Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief during the Clinton administration and the rule's principal architect, said the measure was the product of years of scientific analysis and a record amount of public input. "This is a sound and well-thought out policy," said Dombeck. "Its implementation is critical to ensuring safe drinking water for millions of Americans and protecting some of the nation's most valuable fish and wildlife habitat."

The Bush administration attempted to undo the rule and replace it with one that would allow national forest protections to be determined on a state-by-state basis. The move was challenged by environmentalists and is currently the subject of litigation in two federal appellate courts. While in the U.S. Senate, President-elect Obama co-sponsored legislation that would codify the rule, and his presidential campaign endorsed the policy as part of its conservation platform.

"This is one of the most important land protection measures of the decade," said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands program director for the Pew Environment Group. "Implementing the roadless rule should be a priority on day one for the new administration." The Pew Environment Group today launched a national campaign with other conservation organizations to urge the incoming administration to move quickly to embrace the policy as the law of the land.

Some conservationists are also concerned about potential last minute actions by the outgoing administration that could result in new oil and gas leasing and other industrial activity on previously undeveloped land.

"The Bush administration has created the potential for a surge in drilling and road-building on western public lands, including national forests," said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, which has been involved in multiple legal efforts to prevent such activity in roadless areas. "It's especially important that the new administration calls for an immediate ‘time out' on further activity until the 2001 roadless rule can be fully implemented."

For more information on the roadless rule and the 2009 campaign to restore it, go to www.WhatWouldTeddyDo.org.

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