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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Threat to Wild Lands: The Wilderness and Roadless Release Act

This post was written by Terra Miller-Cassman

Washington Wilderness Coalition hired me as an intern at the beginning of June, and it has been a great experience so far! Since then, I have begun to understand more and more about the importance of our organization and the work we do for Washington State. WWC preserves and protects wild lands and waters in Washington State, and by doing so, helps to keep Washington wild and serene. This mission, however, has come under attack lately by a new bill, Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) H.R. 1581 or the “Wilderness and Roadless Release Act,” which was introduced as proposed legislation this spring. On May 26, 2011, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced a Senate companion bill.

McCarthy’s bill is in the first step of legislation, and was recently the subject of a hearing before a House Natural Resources Subcommittee. Passage of this bill threatens to remove restrictions on new road building and associated development for more than 50 million acres of wild lands across America. It would expose these pristine lands to future oil and gas extraction, mining, logging, and timber harvests.

As a Washington resident, I am mostly concerned because the bill poses a big threat to our state’s beloved wild areas, as it would strip protections for nearly 2 million acres of Washington’s Roadless forests. Some of the most beautiful unprotected wild areas in Washington are threatened by this bill, including: the Dark Divide in southwest Washington, Kettle Crest in northeast Washington, and pristine uncut forests in the Sawtooth Roadless Area – the largest in the state.

McCarthy states that these areas should be opened for development because they are – in his opinion - “deemed unsuitable for wilderness designations” by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Check out his explanation here. The bill would also "release inventoried Roadless areas within the National Forest system that are not recommended for wilderness designation from the land use restrictions of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Final Rule and the 2005 State Petitions for Inventoried Roadless Area Management Final Rule, and for other purposes." Simply because Roadless areas have not been officially recommended for Wilderness in a forest management plan, however, does not mean they have been “deemed unsuitable.” In fact, due to a Congressional quirk, our Roadless areas here in Washington have not even had an opportunity to be recommended as such in the last 30 years!

Supporters of this bill claim that it will create jobs and boost the economy but there is no evidence to support this claim. However, once these wild areas are developed, it is unlikely they could ever be restored to the natural and serene ecosystems that they are now. There are many recreational areas all around the United States, but our wild areas are constantly being diminished. Roadless areas protect wildlife, fish, forests, and maintain clean drinking water. They support biodiversity by protecting the habitats of one-fourth of the federally listed endangered species. The construction of roads contributes to the pollution of our waters by creating more impermeable surfaces, which cause runoff into streams and rivers.

In my opinion, this bill would be a huge blow to the number of wild lands we have left in our country. We need Roadless areas, if only to escape from the busy noise of the traffic-congested roads that surround our communities. As Aldo Leopold once said, “of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”

Check out more information on WWC’s work in Roadless areas here.

Terra Miller-Cassman is WWC’s summer conservation outreach intern. She recently completed her first year at the University of Washington’s environmental studies program. To contact Terra, e-mail her at

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