Roadless Traveled

NRDC has been working for over a decade now on our campaign to protect some of the wildest areas in our national forests - the lands known as "roadless areas."  Roadless areas in our national forests are home to essential wildlife habitat, the sources of clean drinking water for millions of Americans, and exceptional settings for outdoor recreation of all types.

We were ecstatic in 2001 when the U.S. Forest Service issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule - popularly known as the Roadless Rule - to protect over 58 million wild acres.  Before the Roadless Rule, millions of pristine acres were disappearing piecemeal from the national landscape. The Forest Service's own analysis found that a consistent policy across the national forest system was essential to preserve the wild roadless areas that remained. The Roadless Rule accommodates local decision-making for many activities while ending the most harmful and controversial activities in roadless areas: commercial logging and roadbuilding. These activities destroy old growth ecosystems, pollute water, and increase fire risk.  I try to keep my posts brief, so send me an e-mail if you would like more information on the impacts.

Ever since its first days, the Bush administration has been trying to find ways to get rid of the Roadless Rule. One effort to repeal the Roadless Rule was overthrown in court, but litigation is still pending in two appeals courts.  Amidst the long and tortured story of litigation, rulemaking, and political wrangling, the Bush administration exempted the awe-inspiring ancient rainforests of Alaska from roadless protection, and the states of Idaho and Colorado asked the Bush administration to give them their own rules so that their national forests would have less protections than the Roadless Rule.  The Idaho rule is now final, unfortunately, but the Colorado rule is still being worked on.  The draft rule issued by the Forest Service would be a disaster for Colorado's wild backcountry forests.  It includes special favors for industries to build roads and cut down trees throughout roadless areas - whether it's for oil and gas production, coal mining, logging, or ski area expansion.

Just this week, there was another legal decision in the roadless saga.  While the ruling temporarily withdrew an injunction that prohibited certain activities in roadless areas, it doesn't open up these areas to industrial destruction, as some opponents of the Roadless Rule might claim.  Rather it re-emphasizes that the Bush Administration's attempted repeal of the Roadless Rule was illegal.

All of this underscores that the need for consistent protection for all of America's wild roadless areas has not gone away. President-elect Obama supports the Roadless Rule and we expect that he will uphold, defend, and enforce it nationwide.  We'll be working to strengthen administrative and legislative efforts to implement the Roadless Rule in the new Administration and new Congress, and to fight any rule--in Colorado or elsewhere--that offers less protection than the Roadless Rule.