Victory for roadless forests! Court moves to protect national forest roadless areas

Hum Lake, roadless area

More than ten years after President Clinton banned roads and logging on the last roadless areas on our nation’s forests, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has the final say — 49 million acres of America’s national forests will remain wild under the Roadless Rule.

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Oct. 21 that permanently protects some 49 million acres of forests covered by Clinton’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The ruling, a result of a lawsuit in which Earthjustice intervened on behalf of The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups, should put an end to a decade-long legal battle waged by the timber industry, Bush administration and the states of Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming.

The landmark Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service on Jan. 12, 2001, after the most extensive public involvement in the history of federal rulemaking. It generally prohibited road construction and timber cutting in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, about 30 percent of the National Forest System. But the rule was immediately subjected to legal challenges and attacks by the Bush Administration, which sought to open the lands up to unneeded timber production and other destructive activities.

Those of you who have supported our conservation efforts throughout this battle should be pleased to know that, despite the multi-year effort to undermine the Roadless Rule, the vast majority of the roadless forests remain untouched and wild today.  

“The win in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is a great victory that validates the massive support of millions of Americans for protecting roadless forests and removes the clouds of legal uncertainty from this issue,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “This is a day for celebration for everyone who cherishes our roadless forests for their scenic beauty, clean water supplies, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.”

National forests play a vital role in protecting supplies of clean drinking water — holding the headwaters that provide drinking water to millions of people across the country. In addition, roadless forests preserve high-quality habitat for many kinds of fish and wildlife. 

A study by the Forest Service shows that recreation activities on national forests and grasslands have helped to sustain an estimated 223,000 jobs in rural areas and contributed approximately $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

Currently, the 2001 Roadless Rule is in effect nationwide except in Idaho, where different regulations apply. Thus, the Forest Service may not undertake activities that violate the Roadless Rule on 49 million out of the 58.5 million total acres of inventoried roadless areas. A lawsuit by The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups challenging the Idaho exemption is pending in a federal appeals court.  The Wilderness Society is also intervening in a lawsuit challenging the Roadless Rule that the State of Alaska recently filed in the District of Columbia federal court.

“The Tenth Circuit’s decision greatly helps to clarify and solidify the nationwide protections provided by the Roadless Rule,” said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst in The Wilderness Society’s Seattle office. “We still have a ways to go to restore protection for roadless areas in Idaho, which the Bush administration exempted from the rule. We will continue our efforts to ensure full protection of all roadless areas.”

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