In a stunning setback for protection of wild forests, today the Bush administration announced that it is proposing to replace the landmark national Roadless Area Conservation Rule with a state-by-state petition process. Under this proposal, individual governors may ask the Bush administration to identify or modify the management of roadless areas in their state -- with no guarantee that the Forest Service will take action.
The Roadless Rule, finalized in January 2001, was the most popular rulemaking undertaken in Forest Service history. It was designed to protect our last wild forests from road construction and most logging. Despite the widespread public support for roadless area protection, the administration is now proposing to eliminate the Roadless Rule, leaving these special places with no more protection -- and perhaps less -- than existed before the rule was introduced.
Under today's proposal, a governor could request that roadless areas in their state be protected, but a state-by-state rulemaking would only go forward if the Agriculture Secretary agrees. Moreover, it appears that governors could even ask that some or all of the roadless areas in their state receive less protection than existed before the Roadless Rule. Without a nationwide plan for federal protection of roadless forests, forest management will revert to the outdated, piecemeal approach that has allowed extractive industries to reap short-term profits at the expense of our shared natural heritage and future generations -- re-creating the very situation that led to the need for a Roadless Rule in the first place.
"Expecting the Bush administration to protect pristine forest areas is like asking a shark to be a lifeguard at the local swimming pool," said Marty Hayden, Legislative Director at Earthjustice. "Without national, legal protections for roadless areas, we can expect this administration to swing the door wide open for Governors who support the timber industry's desire to squeeze the last dollar out of our national forests."
"Our National Forests belong to all Americans. They do not belong to any state," said Tim Preso, staff attorney in Earthjustice's Bozeman, Montana office. "State governors should not be able to override the American people's interest in protecting these forests, any more than they can override the American people's interest in protecting Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon."