Photo: Lincoln National Forest,
Near Ruidoso, New Mexico;
A Truly Marvelous Place
America's national forest system was created in the early 20th century to preserve our pristine wilderness, and the wildlife that lives there, for all generations of Americans to come. But since then, more than half of the system's forested land has been destroyed, developed, chopped up, or crisscrossed by roads that disturb its natural beauty and its vital ecosystems.
In 2001, with a dwindling amount of untouched national forest land remaining, the U.S. Forest Service issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to save the few remaining expanses of true American wilderness left from development.
And this Roadless Rule was embraced by the vast majority of the American public because it:
Protects Wildlife: Roadless forests are safe havens for fish and other wildlife, including more than 1,600 threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species.
Protects Habitat: In many areas across the United States, wildlife habitat has been fragmented or entirely destroyed because of road building and commercial interests.
Protects Drinking Water: Roadless areas preserve vast expanses of land, which include watersheds that supply drinking water -- unpolluted by development -- for 60 million Americans.
Offers Refuge and Recreation: These quiet, pristine, wild places offer refuge to people as well. Roadless areas are a world apart from the bustling, settled landscapes of our daily lives, and they harbor some of the best fishing, hiking, and camping in the nation.
But not everyone in America supported the benefits of protecting our remaining wildlands.
From its first days in office, George W. Bush's administration worked very hard to weaken protections for our remaining roadless forest areas, in order to give developers access to the places that the American public wants preserved.
But many conservation groups throughout the U.S. have also been working very hard to protect America's remaining national forests and endangered wildlife, and we now once again have some cause to celebrate.
A federal court has recently rolled back Bush Administration attempts to neuter the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protected some 58 million acres of pristine national forest and numerous endangered wildlife species throughout the country. The Bush rule attempted to allow individual states the option of implementing their own rules, protecting far fewer acres of national forest, and far fewer animals.
The court has agreed with assertions made by The Wilderness Society and many other conservation and environmental groups that Bush's state petitions rule was misguided, and that the Forest Service didn’t consider the impact of this move on our environment.
This means the 2001 Roadless Rule is now back in effect nationwide, except on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and on national forests in Idaho.
The Forest Service’s attempts “...to repeal nationwide protections of the Roadless Rule, and to invite States to pursue varying rules for roadless area management was unreasonable,” the court wrote. “It was likewise unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environment, listed endangered species, and their critical habitats, would be unaffected by this regulatory change.”
The court’s decision reinstates one of the most popular environmental rules of all time, and it marks a virtual end to the Bush Administration’s attacks on the 2001 Roadless Rule. It also frees the current administration to pursue President Obama’s pledge to “support and defend” the 2001 rule.
The next step for President Obama would be to help our national forests win the next major court battle: although this Ninth Circuit Court decision is a huge step toward ending the various legal proceedings involving our roadless forests, President Obama should now instruct the Department of Justice to appeal a suit sitting in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where another Bush hold-over effort seeks to nullify the entire 2001 Roadless Rule.
Despite eight years of Bush attacks, the 2001 Roadless Rule is again thankfully, The Law of The Land...except in Idaho, the Tongass, and in the minds of corporate lobbyists and gigantic business concerns.