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Why Protect Roadless Areas?

Map of inventoried roadless areas in the United States.
U.S. Forest Service Map

The almost 60 million acres of large roadless areas in our national forests are an American treasure. They provide some of the last remaining strongholds for grizzly bears, wolves, elk, salmon, and trout. The forests protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule provide vital habitat for 1,500 wildlife species, safeguard drinking water supplies for 60 million Americans, and ensure quality recreation for millions of hikers, fishermen, and hunters.

As a senator, President Obama co-sponsored the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act. As a candidate for the White House, he pledged to uphold and defend the 2001 Roadless rule. His administration recently took a good first step toward protecting our national forests from logging and road building. In May, the administration announced that for the next year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, will review all plans for roadbuilding and logging in roadless areas.

But Vilsack's office has made clear that this does not automatically mean a halt to all development. In Alaska, the Forest Service still hopes to go forward with timber sales scheduled for the Tongass National Forest —the biggest, wildest and most important of the nation's roadless areas.

Meanwhile, Vilsack's review excludes the entire state of Idaho and does nothing to stop the expansion of the Smoky Canyon Mine into roadless areas of Idaho's Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Moreover, whatever protection may occur as a result of the Secretary's directive, it is only planned to be in force for one year.

Now's the time to urge the President to fulfill his commitment to protecting roadless areas by upholding the 2001 rule.

This is a fight Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and our allies have carried for years, supported by hunters and anglers, religious leaders, scientists, backpackers, and many others. We all know that roadless areas are valuable for recreation, wildlife habitat, climate adaptation, and clean water supplies for hundreds of communities.

"Wildland advocates in Oregon and around the country are indebted to Earthjustice for its ongoing commitment to defending the National Forest Roadless Rule.

The Bush administration fought the rule from its first day to its last day, and Earthjustice was there every step of the way, defending the rule of law, so that generations of Americans can enjoy clean drinking water, clean air, a livable climate, diverse recreation opportunities, and healthy ecosystems all provided by undamaged wild forests."
– Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator for Oregon Wild

Spotlight Features

Major Victory Secures Roadless Rule

Thirteen years after Earthjustice first launched legal action, the nearly 50-million-acre heartland of America’s national forests is secure. A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the Roadless Rule, virtually ending a politically infested process that pitted resource exploiters against the vast majority of citizens who rely upon these pristine lands for recreation and repose.

Why I Fight for Our Forests: Earthjustice's Tom Waldo

Protecting our national forests is essential for the future of our nation. Tom Waldo, who joined Earthjustice in 1989 and is a staff attorney in the Juneau, Alaska office, discusses his work protecting our forests.

Why I Fight For Our Forests: Earthjustice's Rebecca Judd

National forests are the single largest source of clean drinking water in the United States, serving 124 million Americans. Rebecca Judd, legislative counsel for Earthjustice, based in Washington, D.C., discusses her work to protect forests.