Roadless Area Conservation

Sierra Nevada Old GrowthThe 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protected 58.5 million acres of wild roadless areas in our national forests from most commercial logging and road building. It was enacted following more than two decades of broad debate, three years of official review and public participation, and the most extensive public rulemaking in history. The rulemaking for this landmark conservation initiative lasted more than 18 months, gathered the overwhelming support of more than 1.6 million public comments, and survived two rounds of industry lawsuits. With over fifty percent of America's national forests already open to logging, mining and drilling, the rule was intended to preserve the last remaining undeveloped forests as a home for wildlife, a haven for recreation and a heritage for future generations. In the Sierra Nevada the Rule protected approximately 2.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas.

The major benefits of the Roadless Rule were:

  • Protecting 58.5 million acres of national forestland in 39 states, and 2.2 million acres in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Maintaining current public access and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing.
  • Preserving critical habitat for more than 1,500 species of fish and wildlife, including many threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species.
  • Safeguarding clean water from forest headwaters and streams, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.
  • Provide large, relatively undisturbed landscapes important for protecting the web of life.
  • Offer opportunities for scientific study and research.

The final rule became a target of the Bush Administration even before it took office. They did not wish to attack this widely supported rule head-on and instead hoped that the rule would be defeated in court by one of the many lawsuits filed by the logging, mining, oil and gas industries. After these lawsuits failed the administration officially repealed the Roadless Rule in 2004, in contrast to their statements soon after taking office I which they committed to defending the rule.

The roadless policy which replaced the 2001 Roadless Rule, issued by the Bush administration in May 2005, left millions of acres of our last wild forests at risk from logging, mining, drilling and other harmful activities. The new policy replaces previously established environmental protections for much of our national forests with a voluntary process that allows state governors to petition for protection of roadless areas in their states, or if they so choose, to petition for more logging, mining, drilling or other forms of extractive development. The Bush Roadless policy completely dismantled the 2001 Rule and removed any and all federal protection for our roadless forestlands. In 2006, Governor Schwarzeneggar petitioned to have all 4.4 million acres of roadless areas protected form future development.

In September of 2006, the Federal District Court of Northern California ruled that the Bush Administration illegally repealed the Roadless Rule and reinstated it as the current policy on roadless area protection. Lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn this ruling and the future of the roadless rule is still uncertain.

Maps of Sierra Nevada National Forest’s Roadless Areas

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