Hardcourts and hardwoods: Roadless forests take center stage

Moose Creek Roadless Area, Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Photo by Jeremy Hall.

New president. New members of congress. An economy bucking like a bronco.  The Denver Broncos worrying about what’s going to happen to their star quarterback — so many things in the news, it’s hard to keep up. What has been happening with our roadless forests during all of this? Here’s the roadless highlight reel for March 2009:

  • President Barack Obama’s administration is currently taking a look at the idea of issuing an interim directive that would keep our roadless forests safe until other solutions can be put in place. Twenty-five members of the U.S. Senate and 121 of the House of Representatives sent a March 18 letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack supporting a directive that would require his office’s approval of any destructive projects that the Forest Service proposes on roadless forests. This would mean no road building, logging or other detrimental activities without clear backing from the secretary himself. It’s essentially one reprieve that could repel some of the attacks former President Bush made on our forests.j

    Our friends at the Pew Environment Group even launched a print and TV ad campaign this week that plays on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and supports the call for a time out on our roadless forests. Commercials will air in D.C. during the first two rounds of the tournament on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

  • The hardwoods hosting March Madness aren’t the only courts that people are watching this month. A ruling on an appeal of a decision by the District Court of Northern California — currently before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — could come down any time. The California court last December removed protection for an estimated 13.6 million acres of roadless national forests in 29 states. That decision came in response to a Bush administration request to lift a nation-wide injunction imposed two years ago, striking down Bush’s attempt to repeal the 2001 Roadless Rule.
  • A victory in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would be a great win but even that is only a semi-final game in what has the danger of becoming the road to the final forest. The ultimate contest to protect our roadless forests would take place in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it will decide whether a federal judge in Wyoming can toss out the original 2001 Roadless Rule that established protection for some 58 million acres of unroaded forests.
  • At the state level, The Wilderness Society is in court in Idaho fighting that state’s new roadless rule. Bush was also responsible for giving states the ability to pass their own measures weakening the protection created by the national rule. Down in Colorado, The Wilderness Society is urging its governor to reject that state’s ongoing effort to approve its own rule — which is significantly weaker than the national one.
  • While the conservation community seeks to break the Bush administration’s eight-year, full-court press on our roadless forests, Congress continues to work on an offensive strategy. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., plan to re-introduce a bill this year that gained considerable support last season: The National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act would create a law to permanently protect our roadless forests and eliminate the need to constantly defend them against unfriendly presidential administrations and court decisions.

photo: Moose Creek Roadless Area, Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Photo by Jeremy Hall.