Friday, October 21, 2011

Federal Court Upholds the Roadless Area Conservation Rule

Thanks to our friends at Washington Wilderness Coalition for breaking the news with the following press release!

SEATTLE, WA – Today, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the legality of the Roadless Rule, affirming protections for nearly two million acres of wild national forests in Washington and nearly 60 million acres around the country. The Court upheld the Rule’s provisions protecting Roadless Areas from road building and associated logging and development. This rule has been under attack for almost a decade but this influential decision ensures that the roadless rule is now unequivocally national policy.

“This is a great victory for the people of Washington and America who have spoken out, time and again and in record number, in support of protecting these wild backcountry lands,” said Tom Uniack, Conservation Director for Washington Wilderness Coalition. “Today’s decision was a home run for roadless forests and clears up any legal ambiguity about the Roadless Rule nationwide.”

The ruling upholds one of the most popular land conservation policies in Washington and the nation and will preserve protections for special places like the Dark Divide near Mt St. Helens and the Kettle Range in northeastern Washington and South Quinault Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula.

“I welcome the news that this court has rejected essentially every legal argument against protecting pristine forests,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “Today’s ruling affirms the 2001 Roadless Rule was a well-crafted, balanced policy which continues to enjoy strong public support. The Roadless Rule is not just good environmental policy, but it protects outdoor industry jobs and helps stem the growth of the Forest Service’s road maintenance backlog. We now have the wind at our backs as we continue working to codify the Roadless Rule into law to ensure future generations of Americans will continue to benefit from these last remaining wild forestlands.”

The rule has been the subject of conflicting court decisions over the past decade. In August 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling to reinstate the roadless rule, leaving the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision still pending. Today’s decision dismissed all of the legal arguments made against the Roadless Rule in the lower court and affirmed that the Rule did not violate the Wilderness Act and that the two-year public process was consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

“This decision makes the Roadless Rule the law of the land.” said Rep. Jay Inslee (WA-01). “For years, the public has voiced its overwhelming support for the Roadless Rule. Now, the court has settled the debate and 49 million acres of public lands will be protected. This decision confirms our efforts in Congress to permanently protect pristine roadlesss areas, preserving our natural legacy for generations to come.”

Roadless areas are often referred to as “backyard wildlands” because of their proximity to population centers and the multi-season recreational opportunities they provide for youth, families and outdoor enthusiasts. Over the past several years hundreds of elected officials, local businesses and diverse stakeholders throughout Washington State have voiced their support for the roadless areas, which are a large part of the quality of life we all enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest.


The Roadless Area Conservation Rule is a popular and balanced policy that protects nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped national forests from road-building and other industrial activity. It was issued by the Clinton Administration in early 2001 after the most extensive public involvement process in the history of federal rulemaking and enjoys the support of hundreds of local elected officials, conservation and recreation groups, religious leaders and local businesses throughout Washington State. With more than one-half of America's national forests already open to logging, mining and drilling, the rule was intended to preserve the last third of undeveloped forests as a home for fish & wildlife, a haven for recreation and a heritage for future generations.

The values of protecting roadless forests include:

Sixty million Americans rely on clean and safe drinking water from the national forests. Roadless areas provide the purest source of that water due to their pristine and road-free condition. In the Northwest Forest Service Region, which includes Washington and Oregon, drinking water on national forest land is worth approximately $941 million annually, which is more than any other region or state in the country except California.

Outdoor recreation has become more and more popular over time as Americans participate in everything from hike and camping to hunting and fishing in roadless areas. Approximately 2.5 million Washington residents took part in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching in 2001, contributing $2.4 billion to the state economy.

A majority of the unspoiled habitat for hundreds of threatened, endangered, and declining species is found in roadless areas. In Washington, 25 at-risk species, including bald eagles, steelhead and bull trout and chinook salmon are found in national forests and could be harmed by the building of new roads and the ensuing destruction of roadless areas.

Protecting roadless areas would be fiscally responsible, by saving taxpayers the cost of adding subsidized logging roads to the existing network of nearly 400,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $10 billion.

The 10th Circuit decision can be read at: