In a region where large tracts of wild, unroaded land are rare, the importance of New England’s national forest roadless areas — to both wildlife and people — is immense. Many of these places are in recovery from historic forest clearing and agriculture. The renewal of the forest and the slow erasure of the scars of heavy human use offer hope for a wilder New England, one that could once again support large, wide-ranging carnivores such as lynx, wolves, and mountain lions, as well as many other species that do best in expansive, protected landscapes. New England’s national forest roadless areas also provide precious opportunities to reconnect with nature for the 70 million city dwellers that live within a day’s drive.
There are two national forests in New England: the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, and the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and western Maine.
The Green Mountain National Forest occupies 400,000 acres; about 100,000 of those are secured from logging, road building, and other heavy-handed development by their designation as federal wilderness. Roadless-area acreage outside of wilderness is roughly 80,000 acres, the majority of which was inventoried as part of the 2006 Forest Plan analysis. The leading threats to these roadless areas are potential expansion of off-road motorized recreation and increasing demand by private land inholders for road access across these areas.
The White Mountain National Forest is nearly 800,000 acres in size, containing about 148,000 acres of designated wilderness and approximately 368,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas. While the 2001 Roadless Rule — instituted by the Clinton administration to protect national forest roadless areas nationwide — has kept logging at bay on about 213,000 roadless acres, the remaining 155,000 roadless acres, which were identified later in the 2005 Forest Plan, are vulnerable to road construction and timber sales. The Forest Service asserts that it isn’t obligated to provide the same level of protection to the recently inventoried roadless areas as those identified at the time of the Roadless Rule. Based on this rationalization, the agency has released a multitude of proposals to log in roadless areas on the White Mountain National Forest — including in places directly adjacent to designated wilderness.
Unfortunately, until permanent legislative protections are put in place, none of New England’s roadless areas are secure from the human-caused intrusions that degrade habitat and destroy the tranquility of wild places. The Center is hard at work to ensure that the integrity of these roadless areas is preserved for wildlife and future generations. Our efforts include commenting on and sometimes litigating against timber sales and road-building projects; supporting local, grassroots efforts to oppose roadless area intrusions; and public education. Recently, we joined with the Sierra Club to appeal the Forest Service’s plans for the Mill Brook and Kanc 7 projects, proposed logging projects that would together damage more than 1,000 acres of roadless areas in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. Unfortunately, the Forest Service denied our appeals of both projects and, adding insult to injury, has just approved another timber sale in the South Carr Mountain roadless area. But we’re not finished fighting to enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule across all of New England’s vital unroaded terrain.