Last October, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Last Friday, they did it again by denying a motion filed by the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association for a rehearing of the court’s October 2011 decision.
What a victory for Roadless areas! Here in Washington, this means virtually guaranteed protections for our 2 million plus acres of Roadless National Forests, the 9th largest Roadless acreage in the country. Washington’s Roadless areas provide clean drinking water, essential habitats for fish and wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered, and scenic areas for hiking, camping, backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hunting.
For a bit of history on the Roadless rule…
In 2001, the Clinton Administration finalized the federal Roadless Rule, the purpose of which was to prevent new road construction and reconstruction of old roads within certain National Forest System lands. In all, the rule protects about 58.5 million acres or 1/3 of all National Forest System lands, which is only 2% of land in the continental U.S.
Roadless areas are characterized by certain features such as high quality soil, water and air; sources of public drinking water; diverse populations of plants and animals; habitat for all categories of species under the Endangered Species Act; recreation areas for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking; lands with traditional cultural properties; and other characteristics.
A key group of supporters of the Roadless Rule included fiscal conservatives who saw the rule as a way to contain the growing backlog of maintenance (now in excess of $8 billion) needed for the bloated Forest Service road system. Nearly 400,000 miles of roads exist in our national forests which is two and a half times the size of the entire federal highway system. These old and decaying logging roads, for the most part, do not provide recreational access but do pose significant risks to our watersheds and fish populations. In the 1990’s, fiscal conservatives asked the question, “why would we put any new roads in the few areas of our national forest that do not have them, if we cannot pay for the roads we already have?”
Washington Wild has been a leader in the Roadless realm for the past decade, fighting to defend protections for Washington’s public lands, while still maintaining access for recreation and restoration.
In 2004 and again in 2006, Washington Wild led the charge in Washington State to oppose efforts by the Bush Administration to weaken the 2001 Roadless Rule. Engaging other conservation and recreation organizations, religious groups, tribal leaders, sportsmen and other local stakeholders, Washington Wild gathered over 20,000 public comments in support of Roadless areas; canvassed door-to-door in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, urging citizens to attend public meetings; led a rally in downtown Seattle, which brought in media coverage from TV, radio and newspapers; and gathered support from elected officials. Whew!
Last Friday’s decision from the 10th Circuit Court serves to further solidify the success of both of these campaigns in protecting Washington’s Roadless areas.
Check out our press release on the 10th Circuit Court’s latest decision, as well as our Roadless webpage for more information on the work that Washington Wild does to protect Washington’s Roadless areas.
Darcey Whitney is Washington Wild’s communication and marketing consultant. She recently moved to Seattle from Hawai΄i, and loves watching her dogs try to catch squirrels.