National Forest Roadless Area Rule Debate / Litigation


1. What are roadless areas?

“Roadless areas” may not be a very suggestive term, but in fact these are some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant lands in our national forests. Roadless areas are exactly that — places where no roads have been built and where, as a result, no logging or other development has occurred. Unspoiled by large-scale human activity, roadless areas are among the last strongholds of the primeval American landscape.




2. Why are these areas important?

Roadless areas are havens for fish and wildlife, whose habitat in many other forest areas has been fragmented or entirely destroyed. They provide habitat for more than 1,600 threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species, and include watersheds that supply clean drinking water, unpolluted by development for 60 million Americans.

These quiet, pristine places offer refuge to people as well; a world apart from the bustling, settled landscapes of our daily lives, they harbor some of the best trout fishing, hunting, hiking and camping in the nation.

Where roads go, “weedy” species of non-native plants and animals inevitably follow, colonizing landscapes and upsetting the delicate balance of native ecosystems. Roadless areas provide refuge from these assaults on native landscapes.




3. What is the Roadless Area Conservation Rule?

The Roadless Areas Conservation Rule is an administrative rule adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in January 2001 to protect the last remaining wildlands in our national forest system. It places about one-third of the national forest system’s total acreage off-limits to virtually all road building and logging. (More than half of our national forest land is already open to such activity.) This protection is the only way to spare roadless areas from the severe damage that roads and intense development like clearcut logging have done to other parts of our national forests.

As adopted, the plan protects 58.5 million acres of unspoiled national-forest land in 39 states. But in protecting these areas, the plan does not isolate them from the public. Instead, it preserves all current opportunities for public access and recreation, including hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and mountain biking, as well as the revenue and jobs that these activities generate in local areas.




4. What kinds of places are protected under the rule?

The rule protects hundreds of thousands of hiking trails across the country — including significant stretches of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The roadless rule also protects many backcountry areas in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.




5. Who supports the roadless rule?

An overwhelming, and bipartisan, majority of Americans. The plan was adopted after a two-year process that included more than 600 public meetings. The Forest Service has received more than 4 million comments on the roadless rule, the vast majority of them in favor of strong protection for roadless areas in our national forests. Support for the forest-protection plan has also poured in from scientists, religious leaders and newspapers across the country, and polling has shown strong support among outdoor-recreation enthusiasts — according to one survey, 86 percent of anglers and 83 percent of hunters back the plan. And it’s not only concerned individuals who voiced their support for the roadless rule. Even KB Home, one of the nation’s largest homebuilding companies, sent a letter to the Forest Service in support of forest protection, saying that the homebuilding industry does not need lumber from roadless areas of our national forests.




6. Who opposes the roadless rule?

Despite the support for forest protection among forward-thinking businesses like KB Home, some in the timber industry are still intent on sacrificing America’s last remaining wild forests for its own short-term gain. They are led by a former industry lobbyist who holds a top position in the Bush administration.




7. What is the Bush administration’s position on the roadless rule?

Using a range of tactics, the Bush administration has attempted to dismantle the roadless rule since taking office. For example, the administration has repeatedly refused to defend the rule in court, and in December 2003, Bush officials “temporarily” exempted Alaska’s Tongass rainforest — our largest national forest — from roadless protections. Although NRDC and its allies have thus far stymied their efforts to log roadless areas under that exemption, the battle continues.

The administration also tried to jettison the entire rule outright — a gambit that was struck down in court, though legal action continues. More recently, Bush appointees have worked on rescinding the rule one state at a time. It has launched rollback processes in Idaho and Colorado, two states with more than 13 million roadless areas between them. In each state, they are pursuing phony replacement rules shot full of loopholes that would jeopardize millions and millions of wildland acres. Vigorous public support across the country for the original, strong rule will be essential in beating back these state-specific rollbacks.




In January, Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck announced that he would be developing a transportation policy for the National Forest System. He also proposed to institute an 18-month road building moratorium on 130 national forests while that policy was developed.


A temporary roadbuilding moratorium approved by the Forest Service went into effect in February. The Wyoming Timber Industry Association promptly challenged the moratorium in Federal District Court. Earthjustice intervened in that case on behalf of the government and conservationists. The second case challenging the Forest Service’s efforts to protect roadless areas was brought by the state of Idaho.

In October, President Clinton announced that his administration would develop a more comprehensive policy to protect the remaining unprotected wilderness areas in the National Forest System. This effort would be conducted on a separate track from the previously announced transportation policy, which would primarily focus on areas within the national forests that are already roaded.


The Wyoming Timber Industry Association’s challenge was dismissed in January and Idaho’s lawsuit was dismissed a month later as premature.

In May, the Forest Service released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to implement President Clinton’s plan. Under the proposed policy, 43 million acres of roadless forest would be protected. The policy marks an important first step towards the preservation of our national forests, but it did not go far enough.

On November 13, 2000, the Forest Service released a near-final plan. The agency proposed to immediately prohibit roadbuilding and commodity logging on 49 million acres of wild forests. In 2004, it would be expanded to include Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, bringing the total acres protected to 58.5 million. Earthjustice worked to ensure that the final plan protected the Tongass.


In January, President Clinton issued the Roadless Area Conservation Policy directive, ending virtually all logging; roadbuilding; and coal, gas, oil, and other mineral leasing in 58 million acres of the wildest remaining national forests lands. The rule was the direct result of a tremendous outpouring of public support. More than 600 public hearings were held around the nation, and the public provided—more than 1.6 million comments on the rule — more than any other rule in the nation’s history.

The roadless policy rule was published in the Federal Register January 12.

On January 20, George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President. His new White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, sent a memo from the White House in late January telling all the Cabinet Secretaries to delay rules and regulations pushed into place during the final days of the Clinton administration. The roadless rule was one of many new policies that fell under this description.

In accordance with President Bush’s Regulatory Review Plan, the roadless policy was delayed an additional 60 calendar days on February 5. This was the result of the so-called Card Memo from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman published an official notice in the Federal Register noting that the implementation date of the roadless rule was being delayed an additional 60 days from March 13 to May 12.

Usually a rule will take affect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. After it takes affect, it is law and can only be overturned by either an act of Congress or an official new rulemaking process. Unfortunately, since it caught the roadless rule in this 60-day window, the Bush administration could legally delay the roadless rule from going into effect.

On March 16, the administration delayed the rule a second time. In response to a court challenge seeking to overturn the new rule filed by Boise Cascade Company, the state of Idaho, and others, the US Justice Department “committed to postponing” implementation of the policy yet again.

March 30, 2001 — The government committed to completing its review of the rule, and said it would report back to the court in Boise on May 4.

May 4, 2001 — The government reported they would allow the roadless rule to go into effect on May 12 but would move at a later date to amend it.

May 10, 2001 — Federal Judge Edward Lodge issued a preliminary injunction barring the rule from taking affect.

October 15, 2001 — Earthjustice attorneys presented oral arguments in defense of the roadless rule before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. A three-judge panel heard Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold argue for a lifting of the injunction currently keeping the rule from being implemented.


During the summer of 2002, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to legislatively authorize the roadless rule. In August, the government actually defended the roadless rule in a surprise reversal. The goverment’s brief was filed in another challenge to the roadless rule filed by the state of North Dakota and is the first real defense of the rule by the federal government. In this case, the government finally admitted the Roadless Rule was legally adopted.

In December, a federal appeals court reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule by reversing the injunction of Judge Lodge.


June 9,2003 — The administration announced that it would settle a lawsuit brought by the state of Alaska by agreeing to exempt the Tongass National Forest — and later the Chugach National Forest — from the Roadless Rule. The administration also said it was working on a revised rule that would allow governors to opt out of the rule.

July 14, 2003 — Judge Brimmer of the federal court in Wyoming found the rule illegal and issued an injunction that purported to cover the entire country. That ruling was appealed by intervenors represented by Earthjustice. It was not appealed by the government defendants.

December 30, 2003 — The administration formally settled the Alaska case and temporarily exempted the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.


May 11, 2004 — The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the intervenors’ appeal of the Wyoming injunction — the administration had urged the court to dismiss the appeal.

July 12, 2004 — The Bush administration proposed a new rule to replace the 2001 rule “with a petitioning process that would allow Governors an opportunity to seek establishment of management requirements for National Forest System inventoried roadless areas within their States.” The proposed rule was praised by timber companies and universally derided by environmental organizations.


May 12, 2005 — The administration formally adopted the new rule with an announcement in the Federal Register.

June 8, 2005 — Earthjustice Kristen Boyles sent a letter to the Forest Service notifying the agency that it had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to putting the new roadless rule into effect.

July 11, 2005 — The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal of the Wyoming injunction on the grounds that the new rule made the case moot. The court did, however, erase the Wyoming court’s ruling.

July 28, 2005 — 146 members of the House of Representatives introduced legislation that would reinstate the original Roadless Rule and repeal the Bush administration’s substitute.

August 30, 2005 — The attorneys general of California and New Mexico and the governor of Oregon, filed suit challenging the Bush administration’s substitute Roadless Rule and seeking reinstatement of the original rule.

October 6, 2005 — 20 conservation groups — represented by Earthjustice — filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco seeking to reinstate the original Roadless Rule. The case is similar to but somewhat broader than the one filed by the three states.

December 22, 2005 — Virginia became the first state to file a petition under the Bush rule, seeking protection for all roadless areas in the state.


February 2, 2006 — The state of Washington moved to join the lawsuit filed by California, New Mexico, and Oregon on the side of those states.

February 15, 2006 — Idaho roadless supporters castigated Governor Dirk Kempthorne for hiring timber industry lobbyists to summarize public comments on the roadless petition process.

February 22, 2006 — The BlueRibbon Coalition and other anti-roadless organization moved to intervene in the litigation filed by states and environmental groups.

February 24, 2006 — The states of Montana and Maine filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of California, Oregon, New Mexico, and Washington.

March 2, 2006 — Environmental groups submitted petitions signed by 265,000 people urging the Bush administration to reinstate the original Roadless Rule. The same day, Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee submitted a bill in Congress seeking to codify the original Roadless Rule as law.

March 9, 2006 — North Carolina Governor Mark Easley petitioned the Bush administration to protect all roadless areas in his state.

April 5, 2006 — The Nez Perce Tribe petitioned the Secretary of Agriculture to reinstate the roadless rule in order to protect tribal lands and traditional use territories.

April 19, 2006 –- South Carolina governor Mark Sanford filed a petition to protect roadless forest lands in that state.

May 22, 2006 –- The Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee reviewed the first of three petitions by Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina asking for provisions of the 2001 rule be reinstated for their forests.

June 1, 2006 –- New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson petitioned the Bush administration to protect all of his state’s roadless forests, becoming the first Western Governor to do so.

June 10, 2006 — Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced that he would seek a temporary restraining order to stop the Forest Service from moving forward with logging Oregon’s largest unprotected roadless forest area.

June 21, 2006 — The Bush administration approved requests from the governors of three Eastern states — Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina — to protect 555,000 acres of roadless forests within their borders.

July 12, 2006 –- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger files a petition seeking protection for all of California’s roadless national forests — more than four million acres.

Early August 2006 — The Silver Creek Timber Company started cutting down trees in an Oregon roadless area, despite objections from Governor Ted Kulongoski.

August 10, 2006 — The Bureau of Land Management auctioned 20,000 acres of land in inventoried roadless areas in Colorado to companies that will explore them for possible oil and gas deposits, over objections from Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO).

September 20, 2006 — A federal district court ordered reinstatement of the Clinton era roadless rule to protect almost 50 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from road building, logging, and development.

September 20, 2006 — Idaho’s Governor, Jim Risch, is the first to file a petition opposing most protections for roadless areas in his state, potentially affecting up to 9.3 million acres of roadless federal forests in Idaho.

November 13, 2006 — Colorado Governor Bill Owens submits the second state petition on the management of roadless areas in his state.


May 24, 2007 — More than 140 House members and 19 Senators led by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2007, to provide permanent protection for 58.5 million acres of pristine forest land in 39 states.

June 7, 2007 — U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer refused Wyoming’s request to strike down the Roadless Rule, stating that his court lacked authority to do so.

December 20, 2007 — The Bush administration announced its intention to remove protections for more than six million acres of roadless areas in Idaho’s national forests.

December 26, 2007 — The Bush administration published its Notice of Intent to begin a federal roadless rulemaking to weaken regulations currently protecting 4.1 million acres of national forest land in Colorado.


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