Underwood Mountain Roadless Area on the Six Rivers National Forest (spoiled by road construction during a fire used to facilitate logging)
Finally after a decade of court battles the 2001 Roadless Rule is once again the law of the land. Nearly 50 million acres of America’s richest natural resource—our National Forests—are now protected by a decree of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has firmly and unanimously taken a stance for wildlife, forests, and clean water.
This decision is amongst the most significant conservation victories in several decades and is powerfully constructed despite an array of industry foes and their army of lobbyists who sought to unleash road builders, loggers, and mining engineers in some of our most pristine natural sanctuaries.
For purposes of the rule, “roadless areas” are defined as contiguous blocks of backcountry public land that are 5,000 acres or larger and do not have improved roads. Those opposing this rule defended their claim that a national forest road system covering more than 380,000 miles that is eight times the size of the federal highway system was just not enough. These wild areas will be barred from new road construction and logging with some exceptions, including when fire or other catastrophic events threaten human lives or property.
Roadless areas are some of the most ecologically important lands that we have remaining in the nation. The rule is crucial to prevent the continued fragmentation of roadless lands, which serve as sanctuaries for wildlife. The decision affirms the value of backcountry areas in sustaining healthy and secure habitat for fish and wildlife, including big game, and conserves America’s backcountry recreational activities and outdoor heritage.
The 10th Circuit Court’s unanimous decision found that the roadless rule did not violate NEPA, the Wilderness Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act and the National Forest Management Act – a victory on all counts! The 2001 rule has now been upheld legally in both the 9th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals thus removing the cloud of legal uncertainty surrounding the rule for a decade.
The 2001 Roadless Rule is in effect nationwide except in Idaho, where the U.S Forest Service did a separate rulemaking that was completed in 2008.
And the legal battle isn’t over, with a challenge from the state of Alaska still pending before the federal district court in Washington, D.C. Separately, the state is also appealing a March ruling by a federal judge in the District of Alaska who struck down a Bush administration rule that exempted the Tongass National Forest from the roadless rule. That case is now pending before the 9th Circuit. Nonetheless, the decision by the 10th Circuit is great news for wildcountry!