Repeal of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule
On May 5, the Bush administration repealed the widely supported Roadless Area Conservation Rule, opening nearly 60 million acres of America's last wild national forests to logging, road construction, mining, oil exploration and other forms of development.
The plan drew blunt criticism from environmentalists and members of Congress, all of whom say it will lead to logging, mining and energy extraction in the ever-shrinking portion of national forests that remains wild and pristine. The Bush plan strikes down the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which restricted road building and resource extraction on the last intact roadless 58.5 million acres of federal forestland. Find out more about the Roadless Rule.
Under the new policy, roadless areas may receive protection only if the governors of the states in which those roadless areas lie complete a burdensome petition process and file their petition with political appointees at the Department of Agriculture. The petitions are not binding, and the government is free to accept, modify or reject them. Elected officials and citizens outside those states will have no say at all about the fate of these shared national treasures (Read more about the petition process below). During a public comment period held last year on the proposed plan, 1.7 million Americans urged the Forest Service to abandon this new plan. Find out more about public support for the Roadless Rule.
Environmentalists charge that the administration's action completes its abandonment of its promise to uphold the Roadless Rule.
May 4, 2001:
The Bush administration held a press conference announcing its commitment to upholding the rule.
July 10, 2001:
President Bush appoints Mark Rey, a former chief logging industry lobbyist, to oversee the U.S. Forest Service as Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.
August 12, 2001:
The Forest Service issues a policy that temporarily exempts Alaska's Tongass National Forest and 11 other national forests from the Roadless Rule.
December 14, 2001:
The Forest Service announces new guidelines that further reduce protections for roadless areas. Under the new guidelines smaller, undeveloped forests adjacent to larger roadless areas are no longer protected from development. The changes also end mandatory environmental impact reviews of the effects of logging and road building in these areas and stop requiring public participation in the consideration of these projects.
June 9, 2003:
Mark Rey announces that the Bush Administration will completely dismantle the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. According to Rey, the administration will settle a lawsuit with the logging industry and exempt 14.7 million acres of ancient rainforest in Alaska's Tongass and Chugach National Forests from protection under the Roadless Rule. He also announces that the Bush administration will give state governors the ability to open wild national forests in their states to the logging industry.
The Administration announced its intention to repeal to Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule was finalized in January 2001 after years of scientific study, 600 local public hearings and meetings and a record number of public comments. The Forest Service received over 2.5 million comments in favor of the rule. The rule protected 58.5 million acres nationwide while allowing temporary road construction in order to fight wildfires, protect public safety, and promote forest health. Conservationists say the rule ensured that national forests would provide habitat for fish and wildlife and clean drinking water for millions of Americans. Find out more about the environmental benefits of roadless areas.
Find out more:
State Petition Process (TWS Analysis)In order for a roadless area to be protected under the Bush rule, the governor of any state with national forest inventoried roadless areas must petition the Secretary of Agriculture to adopt regulations for the protection of those areas. Petitions have to be submitted within 18 months. These petitions may be accepted, modified or rejected by political appointees within the Department of Agriculture, overseen by Mark Rey.
The state petition process is stacked against roadless area protection in several respects. First, there is no certainty that the process will result in any protection for roadless areas. Any petition submitted by a governor will not necessarily be accepted. Even if a petition is accepted, the outcome of the subsequent state-specific rulemaking will still be left up to the federal officials. In its explanation of the final rule, the Administration emphasizes that "there is no guarantee" the state's proposals will be adopted.
Second, the petition process imposes considerable burdens on the state. Petitions will have to address numerous issues that opponents of the Roadless Rule have consistently raised, such as property access, wildlife habitat management and fire hazards. The petition will also have to show how the state involved the public, local governments and resource experts in developing the petition. According to the Federal Register notice, "We envision a governor involving all interested parties in such a process." Especially problematic is an open-ended requirement to explain how the state's proposal complies with "applicable laws and regulations" and compares to "existing State or local land conservation policies and direction." The Secretary could demand that the state provide additional information before taking action on the petition.
In addition, the state will have to make a commitment to participate as a "cooperating agency" in any environmental analysis of the subsequent state-specific rulemaking. This means that the state will be required to allocate resources such as agency personnel, funds and equipment to assist the Forest Service in preparing environmental documents required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, even with the state as a cooperating agency, the Forest Service will retain decision-making authority as the lead agency over all key aspects of the environmental analysis.
The administration's cost estimate of $25,000-$100,000 in state costs per petition seems unrealistically low given the obligation to share costs of site-specific NEPA evaluations. Since the administration exempted the Bush rule from NEPA analysis and documentation, the entire burden of NEPA compliance will fall to the individual states and local national forests. The administration's estimate also evidently fails to consider potential litigation costs to the states associated with defending against lawsuits that may be filed by both supporters and opponents of roadless area protection.
The only significant change in the July 2004 draft rule is the addition of an advisory committee. Made up of 12 representatives of national organizations, the committee will give advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on implementing the state petition process. The committee will review each state petition and make its recommendations within 90 days. Advisory committee members will be selected by the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary is under no obligation to follow the committee's advice.