A time out for our trees: Obama issues reprieve to 49 million acres of roadless forests

It may be hard to see with the human eye, but the trees, rivers and animals that make their homes in roadless forests are celebrating.

From the Teanaway River area in Washington state to the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, they’re toasting the decision made by the Obama administration on May 28 to declare a “time out” – an action that will prevent nearly 49 million acres of these forests from being developed for the next year.

“We’re glad to see President Obama taking the first step toward fulfilling the pledge he made during his campaign to protect our roadless forests,” said Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows. “His decision begins to reverse eight years of Bush administration attempts to dismantle environmental protections for national forests.”

The excitement stems from President Obama issuing an interim directive that will stop local forest supervisors from approving future development projects on roadless forests without consent from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The goal is to limit the ability of local supervisors to greenlight road building, mining and logging projects in all states with roadless forests except Idaho. (That state is in the middle of its own efforts to deal with the issue there.) The idea for this “time out” was supported by countless conservation organizations and by many members of Congress, including 25 senators and 121 representatives who recently wrote Vilsack to make that request.

Roadless forests safeguard clean drinking water for millions of Americans, provide recreational opportunities, protect habitat for wildlife, and provide a defense against the increasing threats of global warming. The one-year reprieve is great news for forests across the country and the people who love them…

Down in Georgia, an old man sits by a stream in the Chattahoochee National Forest soaking up memories of camping trips and friends from long ago.

Horseback riders, fishermen and hikers are smiling as they explore the mighty Teanaway River area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest – looking over beautiful early summer floral displays with the sights of Mt. Rainier and Mount Stuart in the distance.

Bands of big horn sheep are grazing in peace on a gentle range of limestone mountains rising out of the high plain in eastern Montana. To the west, bird watchers meander across parts of the more than six million acres of roadless lands in their state, including a breathtaking swath of Continental Divide country known as the Italian Peaks that sprawls along the Idaho and Montana border.

“The time out is critical,” The Wilderness Society’s Meadows says. “It gives everyone who cares about our forests a year to think through how we protect them for the next one hundred years.”

Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia. Photo by davetoaster, Courtesy Flickr.
Icicle Canyon, Wenatchee Forest, Washington. Courtesy USFS.