Today the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which had kept roadless areas in the national forests from being logged, drilled, and developed, passed into history.

On Thursday, May 5, the Bush administration released the final version of its rule that replaces the Clinton-era one. The new rule eliminates the explicit protections of the original roadless rule, substituting instead a complicated bureaucratic process that does not guarantee any level of protection.

Many environmentalists suspect that the rule’s release was timed to interfere with the appeal of an injunction against the original rule, which was being heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver on Wednesday.

Some 58.5 million acres of roadless forest were protected under the old rule. The new rule would leave roadless areas open to roadbuilding, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, and other development.
Under the Forest Service’s new rule, if governors want to protect (or develop) roadless areas in their states, they must submit a petition to the Forest Service. The secretary of agriculture can accept or deny these petitions. If a petition is accepted, a state-specific rulemaking process is put in motion. The outcome of this process is determined entirely by the Forest Service. Acceptance of a petition by the secretary of agriculture does not guarantee that the final rule will reflect the contents of the petition.

If a petition is rejected, or if a governor chooses not to file one, the management of roadless areas in that state defaults to the existing forest management plans for each national forest in question.

"The petition process is nothing but a smokescreen," said Paul Hughes, executive director of Forests Forever. "The Forest Service intends to throw open our pristine unroaded forests to the highest bidder."

California has 4.4 million roadless acres in its national forests. More than half of the forest management plans for California’s national forests allow roadbuilding and other development.

The original roadless rule was one of the most popular regulations ever, judging by the number of positive public comments it received. From its development to its final replacement by the Bush administration, the roadless rule garnered more than two and half million public comments, nearly all of them in favor of the original rule.

Since Forests Forever first began to organize for action on the roadless rule, its supporters have generated 1,635 letters, 1,180 commitments to write or call, and 3,080 faxes.

The new rule will take effect in January of 2006. Until then the Forest Service’s Interim Directive is in effect. This directive leaves all decisions on roadless areas to the discretion of the Chief of the Forest Service.


Write a letter to the editor of your local paper protesting the destruction of the popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule and its replacement by a meaningless petition process that offers no protection, and puts a burden on states while reserving the final decision to the USDA.

Here are some points to make in your letter:

o The Bush administration rule completely eliminates the protections of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

o The original rule was developed over several years in more than 600 public meetings. The administration offers no scientific justification for its repeal of the rule, and has not held a single public hearing.

o We don’t need any more roads in our national forests. There are already more than 386,000 miles of road on national forest land– enough to circle the earth 15 times. No wonder the Forest Service has a road maintenance backlog of $10 billion!

o Roadless forests provide clean drinking water, fire protection, hunting, fishing, camping and hiking.

o Roadless areas are worth more untouched than for any revenue they might provide from logging or other resource extraction. Outdoor recreation is responsible for far more economic activity in California than the timber industry.

o And perhaps most important, unroaded forests preserve something precious, a wildness that cannot be bought at any price. Once wilderness is gone, it is gone for good.

(It will make your letter more effective if you can talk about your own experience of wild roadless forests.)

These websites have information about the roadless rule:

American Lands Alliance

Heritage Forests Campaign


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places