Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 1, 2019

Contact: Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894,

Utah Seeks to Bulldoze Federal Protections for Roadless Forests

Move Threatens Sensitive Wildlife, Increases Wildfire Risk

SALT LAKE CITY— Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s petition Thursday to undermine protections for millions of acres of national forest roadless areas would threaten nearly three-fourths of Utah’s most sensitive wildlife, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Herbert is asking the U.S. Forest Service to weaken protections for the remaining intact national forest lands to allow bulldozing of roads, logging and other development.

Seventy-four percent of Utah’s sensitive species whose populations are in peril find refuge in roadless areas, according to the Center’s analysis. Those animals include the northern goshawk, western boreal toad and Bonneville cutthroat trout. Roadless areas also provide millions of acres of crucial habitat for deer, elk, moose and other large mammals.

“This would decimate habitat for Utah wildlife already struggling to survive,” said Randi Spivak, the Center’s public lands director. “This is an incredibly cynical ploy to open up forests to road building and industrial logging — it’s not about forest health. It’s a horrible deal for Utah’s forests and citizens.”

Few forms of development do more lasting damage to wildlife than road building, which fundamentally alters the landscape. Among other things, road construction fragments wildlife habitat, destroys or reroutes water sources, and increases the spread of exotic weeds.

The landmark 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule recognizes the critical importance of the remaining intact forest habitat to our nation’s drinking water supply, wildlife and backcountry recreation. More than 370,000 miles of roads crisscross national forests. The roadless rule is lauded as one of the country’s great conservation measures, protecting roughly half of the 8 million acres of national forests in Utah.

If granted, Herbert’s petition would increase the risk of wildfires, contrary to the state’s claims that revoking the roadless rule would reduce the threat. Research shows that roads lead to more human-caused wildfires by introducing ignition sources, such as sparks from vehicles.

“Bulldozing roads into roadless areas means more chances for wildfires to start,” said Spivak. “If Governor Herbert was serious about protecting Utah communities from wildfires, he’d step up efforts to create defensible space around homes and limit development in fire-prone wildlands.”

The roadless rule allows limited timber cutting when necessary, such as to protect against forest fires. According to data provided by the state, more than 20 projects in Utah national forests received such exemptions in 2017 and 2018.

Fishlake National Forest

Wayne Wonderland Roadless Area, Fishlake National Forest. Photo by Tim Peterson. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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