Heritage Forests Campaign Once They're Gone, They're Gone Forever
The Roadless Rule
Threats to Roadless Areas
Politics and Policy
America's Roadless Areas
Enjoying Your Wild Forests
Roadless Areas by State
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Fact Sheets & Reports
Roadless Cartoons
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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

In This Section


" About the Roadless Rule

" Economics of Roadless Areas

" Environmental Benefits

" Recreational Benefits

" Roadless Rule Timeline

About the Roadless Rule

Administration Opens Millions of Acres of Wild Forests to Development

In a triumph of special interests over public interest, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, one of the most significant and popular conservation measures in U.S. history, was repealed by the Bush administration in May 2005. Issued in January 2001 following the most extensive public rulemaking in history, this landmark conservation initiative protected 58.5 million acres of wild roadless areas in our national forests from most commercial logging and road building. With more than one-half of America's national forests already open to logging, mining and drilling, the rule was intended to preserve the last third of undeveloped forests as a home for wildlife, a haven for recreation and a heritage for future generations.

Will special interests get the last piece of our national forests pie? Click here to see a graphic showing the danger to the remaining wild forests.

The Administration's New Policy

The new roadless policy, issued by the Bush administration in May 2005, repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, thus leaving millions of acres of our last wild forests at risk from logging, mining, drilling and other harmful activities. The new policy replaces environmental protections for much of our national forests with a voluntary process that allows governors to petition for protection of roadless areas in their states-or for more logging, mining, drilling or other forms of commodity development. In the end this new policy does not assure any type of federal protections for these national forestlands.

Click here for a Wilderness Society analysis of the administration's new policy.

One justification of the administrationís repeal of the 2001 rule was that the its fate was tied up in the courts. Defenders of the 2001 rule point out, however, that the administration has refused to defend it in court cases brought by the timber industry and its allies, breaking its promise to do so.

Find out more:

Most conservationists were not surprised by the administrationís action. The repeal was consistent with a set of policy positions that favored special interests such as logging and mining companies. The most egregious example, prior to repeal of the Roadless Rule in its entirety, was when the administration exempted the nationís largest national forest, Alaskaís Tongass rainforest from the Roadless Rule.

Roadless Ruleís Major Benefits

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was enacted following more than two decades of broad debate and three years of official review and public participation. It provided a national policy for national lands that was hailed for refocusing resources on maintaining roads while protecting wildlife habitat, clean air and water quality.

The major benefits were:

  • Protecting 58.5 million acres of national forestland in 39 states.
  • Maintaining current public access and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing.
  • Preserving critical habitat for more than 1,500 species of fish and wildlife, including many threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species
  • Safeguarding clean water from forest headwaters and streams, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

Striking a Balance

More Americans have urged the Forest Service to support the Roadless Rule than any other conservation action in our history because it protected the environment but also ensured that other pressing forest management needs were successfully met. The Washington Post praised the Roadless Rule when it was issued, saying, "With this plan the Forest Service strikes a balance, too often missing in the past, between the importance of exploiting natural resources and the value of preserving wilderness. It's the right balance and it ought to be maintained."

As originally implemented in 2001 and now pending as a bill in Congress, the policy:

  • Allows new roads to be built in specified circumstances, such as to fight fires or in the event that other natural events threaten public safety
  • Allows the thinning of trees under the guise of wildfire prevention
  • Provides full access for recreational activities such as backpacking, camping, hunting and fishing
  • Closes no existing road or trail
  • Permits expansion of oil and gas operations within existing and renewed leasing areas
  • Does not change state or private landowners' right to access their land.

Photos of Forests