Quietly Paving Paradise: How Bush Policies Still Threaten America's National Forests
America’s roadless national forests are treasured pieces of our common landscape and heritage. Pristine forests have provided generation after generation of Americans with clean air and water, and opportunities to experience the beauty of the great outdoors. Furthermore, these forests represent some of the last suitable habitat for many species of wildlife. In 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule offered protections for 58.5 million acres of our intact national forests against the threat of road building associated with logging, mining, and drilling.
Unfortunately, the past eight years of forest policy rollbacks and legal battles have left these forests frighteningly vulnerable. Upon taking office, the Bush administration immediately halted implementation of the Roadless Rule, and attempted to replace it with a state petition process that undermined strong protections. As it now stands, forests from the Rockies to the Appalachians have questionable protections under the Roadless Rule. Due to pending court appeals and eight years of attempts to rollback forest policy, the future of the rule—and the pristine forests it aims to protect—is dangerously uncertain.
In fact, our research found that national forests in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and Idaho are just some of the treasured landscapes facing more pressing threats than they have since the inception of the Roadless Rule. We looked at government documents detailing proposed logging, mining and road building projects and found that the bulldozers and chainsaws could start roaring into these forests as soon as this spring.
At stake in Oregon are roadless areas in the Umpqua National Forest. A proposed timber sale threatens to destroy roadless forests including part of the Oregon Cascades Recreation Area. This project would bulldoze 1,515 acres and undermine the Roadless Rule that still stands in Western states.
Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is endangered by several pending projects that will devastate the lush, forested islands for which it is known. Projects such as the Logjam Timber Sale, Central Kupreanof Timber Harvest, Tonka Timber Sale, Kuiu Timber Sale and Iyouktug Timber Sale threaten to permanently mar tens of thousands of acres.
Under a state specific Roadless Rule created during the Bush administration, Idaho’s forests have weaker protections than other forests across the country. A full 405,900 acres have been placed into a management category that allows road construction and emphasizes access for phosphate mining. J.R. Simplot, a company that mines phosphate all across Idaho, is pushing leases forward. Additionally, five million acres of roadless forests across the state have weakened protections to accommodate logging.
On the heels of the Idaho rule, the state of Colorado is on its way to finalizing its own state specific Roadless Rule. This rulemaking has reduced protections in roadless forests that are of interest to coal and oil and gas companies. Currently included in the proposed rule are exemptions for future coal mining at Priest Mountain and oil and gas leases in the Clear Fork Divide Roadless Area.
Despite the number of acres of national forests that are threatened by pending projects, there is still hope. President Obama has made clear his support for strong protections of our roadless national forests. The time has come for immediate action to ensure these forests are around for future generations.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has the power to issue a “time out” for our forests. Secretary Vilsack should require secretarial-level approval of any U.S. Forest Service project that might be inconsistent with the rule to protect these wild forests while steps are taken to fully implement the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
Time is running out for these wild lands. The administration has to act quickly to preserve our roadless forests for future generations. After all, once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.