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 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.
The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 would:
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).