13 Million Acres of Roadless Forests Up for Grabs?

Shavers Fork Headwaters Roadless Area, Monongahela National Forest, WV. Photo by Mark Muse.

You may have already read something that hit the news this week about a federal judge restricting protection for roadless forests to only nine states. The legal back and forth that has gone on since President George Bush took office can be pretty confusing. Here are the basics of what happened and why it matters:

  • A federal district judge in San Francisco issued a ruling on Dec. 2 that now reduces the number of states where the Clinton-era 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule applies – removing protections for more than 13 million acres in 29 states and Puerto Rico. The only states with roadless forests that maintain protection are: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii.
  • The most imminent threat resulting from the judge’s decision is the possibility of action on 327 oil and gas leases in Colorado and other Northern Rockies states, where the Bush administration sold leases in the event that oil targets became available in roadless areas. Roadless forests in all but those nine states could now be exposed to road building, logging and mining.
  • The ruling is the latest in a long string of legal battles that began when President Bush took office and began attempting to dismantle the rule. He has managed to develop a grand total of about seven miles, while friends of the forests have protected some 50 million acres.
  • We’re calling on President Bush to resist the temptation to use the new court ruling as an opportunity to exploit roadless forests before he leaves office. He should respect the will of the people who have so ardently supported roadless protection.
  • The Wilderness Society is currently considering what can be done next to regain protection in those 29 states. Other court cases are still working their way through various courts and it’s possible that future legal decisions could remedy the situation. The new Congress and administration could also revisit legislation proposed last year – the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2007 – and stop the legal ping pong match by governing roadless protection with a law instead of the current tool, an administrative rule.

By the numbers:

  • 13,667,000 – Total acres of forests that could be exposed to industrial development.
  • 29 – The number of states that lost protection.

States with the most roadless forest acreage to lose:
*acreage by 1,000s

  • Colorado: 4,433
  • Utah: 4,013
  • Wyoming: 3,257
  • Virginia: 394
  • N. Dakota: 266
  • New Hampshire: 235
  • W. Virginia: 202
  • N. Carolina: 172
  • Arkansas: 95
  • Tennessee: 85

Get a complete list of states here.