Repealing the Roadless Rule
On July 12th, the Bush administration announced a proposal to repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was enacted in January 2001 to protect the last pristine thirty percent of our national forests from logging and road-building. The administration plans to replace the rule with a meaningless process that allows governors to petition for protection of roadless areas in their states or for more logging, mining and drilling.
The Bush Administration is trying to hide the fact that it is repealing the Roadless Rule by claiming to increase local input and provide a unique petition role for Governors. It ignores the fact that Governors already have the right to petition the Forest Service for changes in forest management. Instead, the proposal creates an additional one-time petition process that creates new financial and resource burdens and places strict deadlines on Governors while offering no guarantee that their petitions will be adopted.
The day this proposal takes effect, millions of acres of our last wild forests will be immediately at risk.
Threats to Alaska's Tongass Rainforest
The state of Alaska is home to one-fourth of our nation's roadless areas. The Tongass Rainforest alone accounts for more than nine million acres of the 58.5 million acres of national forests covered by the Roadless Rule. On December 23, 2003, the Bush administration exempted the Tongass from the rule. Prior to their final decision to exempt the Tongass, the administration held a comment period and received approximately 250,000 comments in opposition to the rule, including comments from K.B. Homes, Hayward Lumber, and Staples.
Approximately fifty timber sales can now move forward in pristine areas of the Tongass that should be protected by the rule. In the summer of 2004, the administration approved two sales, one on Gravina Island and on in the Threemile area on Kuiu Island.
Just days after the rule was finalized in January 2001, Boise Cascade et al and the State of Idaho (a.k.a The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho et al vs. Veneman) filed suit against the roadless rule in Idaho Federal District Court. The Administration's defense was so poor that Judge Lodge cited the government's own arguments in ruling to effectively halting implementation of the rule by imposing a preliminary injunction.
After Judge Lodge's May 10, 2001 ruling against the rule, the Bush administration decided not to defend the rule in the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, despite a promise from Attorney General John Ashcroft at his Senate confirmation hearing to do just that. Environmental groups stepped into to defend the rule in the Ninth Circuit. In November 2002, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals reversed the preliminary injunction to allow the federal government to proceed with implementation of the Roadless Rule.
In a similar case brought only by the timber industry in Wyoming, the Bush administration offered a meager defense of the rule. Judge Brimmer of the Wyoming Federal District Court decided that the rule violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Wilderness Act and imposed an injunction. The Bush administration failed to appeal the Wyoming ruling to the Tenth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, leaving it once again in the hands of conservationists and environmental groups to defend the rule. These parties are confident the Tenth Circuit Federal Court will reverse the injunction as the Ninth Circuit Federal Court did.
The Bush administration has been working to weaken or overturn the Roadless Rule since taking office in 2001. In July of that year, the administration announced an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and posed ten questions to the public that appeared to be based on concerns raised by the timber industry. During the 60-day comment period, the Forest Service received 700,000 public comments, the vast majority again calling for implementation of the rule. Click here to view the Federal Register Notice.
Throughout 2001, the administration also issued several interim directives that, among other things:
- eliminated required environmental reviews before entering national forests;
- removed the moratorium preventing new road-building in undeveloped national forests; and
- eliminated protections for more than a dozen national forests, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, where the Forest Service already has begun approving timber sales in roadless areas (link to Tongass feature page).
For more information on these regulatory changes click here.