Statement from Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen reacting to announcement from Department of Agriculture on the roadless rule:
“Secretary Vilsack’s announcement — that he will make all decisions about roadless area development for the next year or so — is needed and welcome. Roadless areas are important as some of the last remaining pristine areas in America, and they are a vital part of how we will protect our world in an era of climate change. We look to the Secretary and President Obama to fulfill their commitment to nationwide roadless area protection.
“It’s important that the Tongass National Forest is included in today’s directive. There are five timber sales scheduled this year in the Tongass that will be affected by the new interim directive.
“We need to get back to nationwide roadless area protection, and for that reason, we think Idaho should be included under this directive as well. As the Obama administration develops its roadless vision over the next year, it must think about how best to implement roadless protections for the whole country.
“The Forest Service should end the temporary exemption of the roadless rule in the Tongass, and should also stop the expansion of the Smoky Canyon Mine into roadless areas of Idaho’s Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Secretary Vilsack must tell the Justice Department to drop the legal arguments carried over from the Bush administration and inform the courts that this administration supports the roadless rule.
“Hundreds of hearings have already been held on the roadless rule, millions of comments gathered, and Americans support roadless protection by a margin of 10 to 1. Supporters include hunters and anglers, religious leaders, scientists, backpackers, and many more.
“Those who oppose the rule hope to profit from exploitation of these public resources for logging, mining, and other extractive activities. But roadless areas are extraordinarily valuable just as they are –for recreation, wildlife habitat, climate adaptation, and clean water supplies for hundreds of communities. The only way to put an end to the use of the roadless rule as a political football is by returning protections to all 60 million acres.”
Both as a senator and as a candidate for the White House, President Obama was forthright in his support for the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forest lands.
The rule was established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, but severely undercut by the Bush administration — freezing its implementation, not defending it against industry court challenges, finally repealing it and opting for a state-by-state process that left roadless areas unprotected.
Earthjustice represented a wide swath of the environmental community in fighting off nine separate legal attacks on the rule filed by timber companies and a few states. The effort was remarkably successful, first keeping the loggers and roadbuilders at bay and then later overturning Bush’s local option rule.
Several cases are still pending on the rule, or on site-specific projects such as proposed mines and timber sales in roadless areas. If these cases have to go through the entire process of decisions, appeals, and remands, years will go by without a resolution — or full protection of roadless areas. In addition, the Forest Service is planning to offer several timber sales this year in roadless areas of Alaska’s magnificent Tongass National Forest and has several more in the planning process.
Read Secretary Vilsack’s announcement (PDF)