Roadless Area Ruling A Signal To Protect National Forest Lands

Media release - August 5, 2009
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, restoring protections to about 40 million acres of National Forest lands. In light of the ruling, Greenpeace urged President Obama to avoid future lawsuits and controversy by permanently protecting Roadless Areas in National Forests, including those in Idaho and Alaska’s Tongass National Forest which were unaffected by today’s ruling.

"This is a giant victory for the American people who have consistently backed protections for the last best roadless forests on our public lands," said Rolf Skar, senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace, a plaintiff to the successful court case filed by EarthJustice. "The Obama administration needs to ensure all of America's remaining 58 million acres of Roadless Areas are conserved. We can't leave the wildlands of Alaska and Idaho behind."

The "Roadless Rule," created in the 2001 by the Clinton administration, was extraordinarily popular, garnering more favorable comments than any other initiative in US rule-making history. Since its inception, however, it has been the subject of lawsuits and attacks by industry groups and the Bush administration. In 2005, the Bush adminstration replaced the rule with a "State Petitions Rule" which watered down protections and gave state governors unprecedented influence on federal lands owned by all Americans.

The three judge panel found that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act by replacing the 2001 Roadless Rule with the State Petitions Rule. The judges also found the Bush administration acted improperly by using a "categorical exemption" (an administrative tactic to side-step environmental reviews and safeguards) when it repealed the popular Roadless Rule, stating that it was "unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environment, listed species, and their critical habitats would be unaffected by this regulatory change."

Eyes are now turned to the Obama administration. While Obama made commitments as a presidential candidate to "support and defend" roadless forests, his administration has a mixed record with regard to Roadless Area conservation.  Recently, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack green-lighted the Orion timber sale in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. That logging project includes road-building and clearcutting in temperate rainforests bordering the Misty Fjords National Monument.

"The Obama adminstration has a chance to put years of legal battles behind us and move forward with full protection of America's roadless forests," said Skar. "These last great wildlands are too important for drinking water, climate stability, wildlife, recreation and local economies to be sliced up and chopped apart for the sake of partisan politics."

VVPR info: Rolf Skar, 415-533-2888 (cell);