Joining the States of California, Oregon, and New Mexico, 20 conservation groups today added their voices to the call for protection of the last wild places in North America. The conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco seeking to invalidate a Bush administration decision targeting the last, large untouched tracts of our national forests for industrial development. The suit asks the court to reinstate a prior rule that protected these key areas.
“Roadless forests provide Americans with clean water and air, and homes for our wildlife. They also give us quiet places to recreate and recharge,” said James Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Eastside Sports in Bishop, California and a board member of California Wilderness Coalition. “Many places in the west, including the Sierra Nevada where I live, are endangered by bulldozers and chainsaws that destroy the outdoors hikers, fishermen, birdwatchers, and hunters come to experience.”
The 2001 Roadless Rule was a widely supported regulation that protected over 58 million acres of public land on national forests from road construction, commercial logging, and development. Hunters, fishermen, hikers, and millions of regular Americans considered it one of the greatest forest conservation measures in U.S. history. Despite its valuable protections, the 2001 Roadless Rule was formally repealed by the Bush administration in May of 2005.
“Our business relies on the cold, clear water that flows from our roadless forests. Developing these areas would hurt our business and affect our quality of life,” said Bonnie Schonefeld, owner of Lochsa Connection, a Kooskia, Idaho-based whitewater supply company.
“Roadless areas in the Colville and Umatilla National Forests are places I regularly hunt and fish,” said Jeff Holmes of Cheney, Washington. “I don’t think DC bureaucrats should give away these special places.”
Approximately 1.2 million Americans commented on the roadless rule after it was first proposed in 1998. Over 95 percent of these people supported the proposed ban on new roadbuilding in our largest tracts of undeveloped forest. The Bush administration’s repeal of the Roadless Rule swept away those protections without consideration for science, economics, biology, cost to communities, or common sense.
“Building new roads into roadless areas just adds more taxpayer subsidies, increases budget deficits, and is lousy public policy,” said Gundars Rudzitis, Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Idaho in Moscow. According to research conducted by Rudzitis and others, residents of communities adjacent to pristine areas “care about living close to unspoiled nature, where they can pursue hunting and fishing on public lands.” Rudzitis concluded, “building roads into these pristine areas will only negatively impact the long-term economic future of these communities.”
On national forests, 386,000 miles of roads, many to nowhere, fragment wildlife habitat and open the land to massive, landscape-scale clearcut logging, as well as increased threat of wildfires. Thousands of miles of these roads have fallen into disrepair and are collapsing and eroding into many of our key watersheds causing significant water pollution problems for people and wildlife.
“Many roadless areas are the source of clear, cold streams that wild fish need to survive,” said Kristen Boyles with Earthjustice. “Last year, scientists at EPA recommended that key salmon and steelhead roadless areas remain protected, but that unbiased advice was ignored by the Bush administration.”
The Roadless Repeal also gives state governors the right to petition the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the US Forest Service, for particular roadless area protections, although the petitions may or may not be granted. Many states governors have objected to this process because it is cumbersome and costly. “This state-by-state approach takes the national out of national forests,” said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. “Our National Forests belong to all Americans.”
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of The Wilderness Society, California Wilderness Coalition, Forests Forever Foundation, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Natural Resources Fund, Sitka Conservation Society, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Pacific Rivers Council, Idaho Conservation League, Conservation NW, and Greenpeace. The Attorneys General of California and New Mexico and the Governor of Oregon filed a lawsuit challenging the Roadless Repeal on August 30, 2005.