New legislation blocks new roads on nearly 60 million acres of public forests

Senator Maria Cantwell, along with Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), introduced legislation to permanently protect millions of acres of national forests from adding any new roads.

Also leading the effort is Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 would codify the 2001 Roadless Rule, which limits costly roadbuilding and logging on roadless areas across the National Forest System. This legislation is said to “protect hunting and fishing opportunities, provide critical habitat for 1,600 threatened or endangered species, lessen wildland fire risk, and supply clean drinking water to millions of Americans in 39 states”.

“The Roadless Rule protects key recreational areas, vital watersheds, and irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat,” Senator Cantwell said. “Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians depend on roadless areas for clean drinking water and to drive our juggernaut outdoor recreation economy. It’s time to permanently safeguard our remaining undeveloped forest lands as the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy, a home for wildlife, and a heritage for future generations.”

“The Trump Administration’s reckless efforts to expedite the rollback of conservation protections on public lands – with limited public input – must be checked. Attacks on the Roadless Rule put our unique and beautiful wilderness at risk and undermine our federal trust responsibility to Indigenous communities. This bill will codify one of our national forests’ most important protections and prevent costly, environmentally-damaging roads from jeopardizing important conservation efforts in these pristine places,”said Rep. Gallego.

“Allowing development in our roadless wilderness areas would threaten the value they provide to small businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and communities that depend on a thriving outdoor recreation economy,” Senator Udall said. “In New Mexico, our pristine public lands are what make our state the Land of Enchantment and the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is crucial in protecting these untouched places – safeguarding nearly 1.6 million acres in New Mexico alone like the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests. This legislation would prevent the Trump administration from rolling back protections that safeguard our drinking water sources, critical habitat for wildlife like the Mexican spotted owl and our most special places that belong to all Americans.”

“The Roadless Rule is one of the most broadly supported environmental policies in the country that protects nearly 60 million acres of untouched forests for people to enjoy – yet, now it’s under attack,” Rep. DeGette said. “We are not going to sit back and allow this administration to undo this important rule and the protections it provides some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes.”

“Oregonians revere the natural bounty of our state. The Roadless Rule is critical to the preservation and the health of our public lands and access to outdoor recreation, especially in Oregon,” Senator Wyden said. “The Trump administration has proven it can’t be trusted when it comes to protecting our public lands. This bill would ensure the health of our national forests aren’t jeopardized by unnecessary roadbuilding.”

The legislation would place restrictions on the forests, which they say make up 31 percent of the country’s National Forest System and allow for continued forest management to reduce the risk of fire and to promote forest health while also preserving the public forest lands “as a legacy for our children”.

The legislation would not limit public access to existing roaded areas, but would limit the addition of new roads. The legislators say it would still allow for the construction of roads in limited situations such as fire, flood, or other catastrophic events.

The Roadless Rule was developed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) during the Clinton administration and finalized in 2001.

Legislators said in their release it was introduced “following several years of deliberation, 600 public meetings in local communities nationwide, and 1.6 million public comments, including 60,000 from Washington state alone”.

They say that Ninety-six percent of comments received favored strong protection for National Forest roadless areas while a March 2019 poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that three out of four respondents said they supported keeping roadless forest protections, and only 16% oppose it.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 is said to be supported by stakeholders including Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, conservationists, small businesses, and climate advocates.

“Protecting the backcountry areas of our National Forests – places like the Liberty Bell Roadless Area near Washington Pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail passes through – is so important to the outdoor experience in Washington and beyond. The Roadless Rule is integral to protecting landscapes of our National Forests and we appreciate Senator Cantwell and Congressman Gallego’s work on this bill,” said Katherine Hollis, the Conservation and Advocacy Director for The Mountaineers.

“As a fisherman I believe we need watershed scale protections for salmon habitat in the Tongass. In an era of environmental uncertainty and changes in our oceans all of the small salmon streams in the Tongass National Forest are important for maintaining diverse stocks of wild salmon,” said Elsa Sebastian, a commercial fisherman. “We can’t afford to see any more productive forest opened up for logging. The roadless rule is working for commercial fishermen, and investing in our salmon businesses would feel a lot easier if we knew that roadless areas in the Tongass will be permanently protected from clearcut logging.”

“We have lived off these lands in a sacred and caring way for generations, and we want to continue to live in our traditional ways for our children and our children’s children. Corporate logging cannot come before we the people. We also know the Tongass is important to help stop climate change for everyone around the world,” said Adrien Nichol Lee of the Tlingit Tribe, and President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12 and keeper of cultural Tlingit education.                                                                       

“This legislation stands tall against President Trump’s attack on some of the best tools we have in the fight against climate change: our forests. At a time when the administration is rushing to greenlight industry-sponsored politicians’ demands for Roadless Rule carve-outs to enable more logging and more environmental destruction, it’s more important than ever that Congress exercise its traditional role in the separation of powers and step in to protect our environment. We thank Senator Cantwell, Representative Gallego and their colleagues for their tireless advocacy for our forests,” said Martin Hayden, the Vice President of Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 would:

  • Protect, in perpetuity, 58.5 million acres of roadless national forest in 39 states;
  • Ensure the more than 240 million people living within 100 miles of a national forest or national grassland retain access to opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing;
  • Safeguard watersheds in national forests and roadless areas that provide clean drinking water for over 60 million Americans;
  • Save taxpayers millions of dollars by limiting costly new road building, allow the Forest Service to focus on maintaining its existing 371,581-mile network of National Forest System roads, and reduce its $3 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on its existing road system;
  • Maintain exemptions for hydropower development, public safety, and firefighting needs;
  • Uphold the 9th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals decisions, as well as a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in support of the Roadless Rule.

In addition to Cantwell, Udall, and Wyden, the Senate cosponsors include U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

In addition to Gallego and DeGette, House cosponsors include House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Chair Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Reps. Ed Case (D-HI), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Albio Sires (D-NJ), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Sean Casten (D-IL), David Price (D-NC), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY).

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