13 Million Acres of Roadless Forests Up for Grabs?

Dec 2, 2008

WASHINGTON – The Wilderness Society is calling on the Bush administration to refrain from using a decision by a federal judge today as an excuse to knock down protection for an estimated 13.6 million acres of roadless national forests in 29 states. In particular, TWS is encouraging the administration to keep its sights off forests in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states that could be opened to as many as 327 oil and gas leases.

“The latest legal volley in the ongoing roadless battle should not cause our lame duck president to overturn Americans’ desire to protect our roadless forests,” TWS Senior Resource Analyst Mike Anderson said. He made the comments after U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte San Francisco issued a ruling that potentially exposes the 13.6 million acres of pristine forests to destructive logging, mining and road building. “We expect Bush to do the right thing and hold off on any efforts to level forests that that protect natural resources and recreational opportunities for people, habitat for wildlife, and provide a defense against global warming.”

Judge Laporte made her decision in response to a Bush administration request to lift a nation-wide injunction that she imposed two years ago, striking down a Bush administration revision of the 2001 Roadless Rule. The administration argued that Laporte’s injunction conflicted with a ruling issued this August by U.S. District Judge Clarence A. Brimmer in Wyoming. Laporte agreed to drastically reduce the geographic scope of her injunction to New Mexico and the nine western states covered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while removing protection for roadless areas in the rest of the nation. (Those nine states are: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii.)

The new court decision poses an especially serious threat to roadless areas in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states where the Bush administration has sold hundreds of oil and gas leases in the event that oil targets became available inside roadless areas.

“Bulldozers and oil rigs could now destroy some of our finest wildlife habitat,” said Suzanne Jones, The Wilderness Society’s regional director in Denver.

This will likely be the final court ruling on the roadless area issue before President Bush leaves office.

“The new administration and Congress will need to act quickly and decisively to protect these pristine areas once and for all,” said Michael Francis, national forest policy director for The Wilderness Society.

Legal Background At a Glance:

Today’s court ruling is the latest development in a roller-coaster of judicial and administrative actions since the Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted in January 2001, protecting 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless areas from road building and logging. The Bush administration sought to repeal the Roadless Rule in 2005, but that attempt was invalidated the following year by Judge LaPorte in response to successful lawsuits by four states and a coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice. LaPorte’s decision required the Forest Service to comply with the 2001 rule nationwide except in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which the Bush administration had previously exempted from the rule.

The State of Wyoming subsequently asked Judge Brimmer to invalidate the 2001 Roadless Rule, which he did in August 2008 despite a prior decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Rule’s legality. The Bush administration then requested both Judge Laporte and Judge Brimmer to lift or modify their conflicting injunctions. Judge Brimmer has yet to rule on the administration’s request.

Roadless Areas No Longer Protected by Roadless Rule Due to Modification of LaPorte Injunction (1000’s of acres)

Alabama: 13
Arkansas: 95
Colorado: 4,433
Florida : 50
Georgia: 63
Illinois: 11
Indiana : 8
Kentucky: 3
Louisiana: 7
Maine: 6
Michigan: 16
Minnesota: 62
Mississippi: 3
Missouri: 25
New Hampshire: 235
N. Carolina: 172
N. Dakota: 266
Oklahoma: 13
Pennsylvania: 25
Puerto Rico: 24
S. Carolina: 8
S. Dakota: 80
Tennessee: 85
Texas: 4
Utah: 4,013
Vermont: 25
Virginia: 394
W. Virginia: 202
Wisconsin: 69
Wyoming: 3,257

Total = 13,667,000 acres