FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 20, 2006
Judge Reinstates Nationwide Roadless Area Protections
SAN FRANCISCO – In a major victory for wildlife protection, federal Magistrate Judge Elizabeth La Porte of the Northern District of California today threw out a controversial Bush administration Roadless Rule and reinstated protections for over 58 million acres of roadless National Forests, making them off-limits to logging, road construction, and other development.
In July 2005, the Bush administration repealed the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a Forest Service regulation implemented in 2001 by the Clinton administration, which generally prohibited logging, mining and other development of inventoried roadless land in national forests. The Bush decision eliminated protections for much of the nation's best remaining fish and wildlife habitat and sources of clean water for over 60 million Americans. Today’s ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit challenging the repeal filed by Earthjustice, representing a national coalition of 20 conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
“Today’s ruling ensures that our last unprotected pristine areas can be saved to allow habitat for wildlife and clean water,” said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of CBD. “It takes management of public wilderness areas out of the hands of special interests and gives it back to the American people, who have made it clear they want these lands to remain intact.”
The Bush administration had put in place a cumbersome and uncertain state-by-state petition process which required governors to petition to protect their state’s roadless lands, with the final decision left to administration officials. The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the most popular federal rule-making in history and the Bush administration’s reversal and substitute petition process was the most widely opposed rule in federal history. In 2006 more than 250,000 Americans petitioned to reinstate the 2001 roadless rule. The states of California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington also filed suit challenging the Bush rules and the state of Montana filed legal briefs in support. Five states (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Mexico, and California) submitted petitions for protection for all roadless areas in their states. In March 2006 Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced federal legislation that would protect all remaining undeveloped national forest lands.
“This is a great victory for states seeking protection of their roadless areas,” said Todd Schulke, Forest Program Director for CBD, and member of the Bush administration’s Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee, which was formed to evaluate state roadless petitions. “Nearly every state that petitioned under the Bush rule has requested the protection of their roadless areas and this ruling will grant that protection without the states having to continue an unnecessary, uncertain, and expensive bureaucratic process,” added Schulke.
Despite their ecological importance, at least 2.8 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on Forest Service lands have been lost to road construction over the last 20 years. Another 34.3 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on public lands were vulnerable to road construction and other degradation under Bush administration regulations.
Roadless area protection is especially important in the southwestern U.S. and southern California, where there are numerous pristine watersheds and endangered species habitats in roadless areas at risk. Of the 11.2 million acres of Forest Service lands in Arizona and 9.3 million acres in New Mexico, almost 1.2 million acres and 1.6 million acres are roadless, respectively. Many of these lands are significant habitat for imperiled species: in 2001 CBD published a scientific report demonstrating that roadless areas provide the last refuge for numerous imperiled western native trout species, such as the Gila trout, greenback cutthroat trout, bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, and Colorado River cutthroat trout. In southern California, Morrell Canyon, a beautiful, biologically diverse, oak-filled canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains of the Cleveland National Forest is at risk of being flooded and destroyed by a proposed hydropower dam and reservoir in this roadless area.
Judge La Porte barred the Forest Service from any further actions, such as logging in roadless areas, which would violate the Clinton roadless rule. Judge La Porte ruled that the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by repealing the 2001 roadless protections without analyzing the environmental impacts or the effects on federally protected species.
“Americans do not want to see their last untouched forests and pristine wildlife habitat trashed by logging and mining,” said Galvin. “These are the nation’s premiere hunting, fishing, and hiking areas.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.