Common Sense Protections: The 2001 Roadless Rule

Balanced protection for Oregon's natural heritage

Roadless Pie ChartIn January 2001, following the most extensive public rulemaking process in history that included 18 months of review and analysis and 600 public hearings, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule was issued. The rule was designed to protect 58.5 million acres of pristine National Forest land, including nearly 2 million acres here in Oregon, from most commercial development. 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 forestlands as a home for wildlife, a haven for recreation, and a heritage for future generations.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule's major benefits included:

  •     Protecting 58,500,000 acres of National Forest land across America, including 2 million acres here in Oregon;
  •     Safeguarding clean water from forest headwaters and streams, the source of drinking water for more than 60,000,000 Americans;
  •     Maintaining current public access and recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting and fishing;
  •     Preserving critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including more than 1,600 threatened, endangered, or sensitive plant and animal species;
  •     Allowing land to be actively managed when necessary to restore ecological processes, provide habitat for endangered species, or avert catastrophic wildfire; and
  •     Protecting wild backcountry areas needed by elk and other big game, as well as safeguarding rivers and streams needed for salmon, steelhead, and other native fish.

While protecting America's remaining wild lands, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule:

  •     Did not change state or private landowners' right to access their land;
  •     Allowed new roads to be built in specified circumstances, such as to fight fires or in the event that other natural events threaten public safety;
  •     Allowed logging of certain timber to reduce the risk of wildfire;
  •     Provided full access for recreational activities such as backpacking, camping, hunting and fishing, and closes no existing road or trail.

The Roadless Rule Undone, Redone, Unclear

In May of 2005, the Bush administration carelessly tossed aside the 2001 Roadless Rule and the years of planning and public participation that went into making it.  In its place was a Bush administration rule that allowed for reckless logging, mining, drilling, and other development in our nation's unspoiled wild lands.

Oregon Wild, along with other conservation groups and a handful of states, challenged the new Bush policy in court. On September 20, 2006, a federal court ruled that the Bush administration's roadless policy was illegal because it violated major federal environmental laws. As a result, the judge reinstated the original 2001 Roadless Rule.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. Despite the ruling, and in an effort to undermine the Rule, the Undersecretary of Agriculture (a former timber lobbyist) invited governors to petition for state-specific roadless area management. Two states -- Idaho and Colorado did. 

Finally, on August 12, 2008, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled again to overturn the national rule. While the decision conflicts with the 2006 ruling, it does not overturn it.

Finally, after a decade of legal ping pong, the Supreme Court ruled in October 2012 and rejected a mining industry appeal after a lower court had overturned the final Bush-era legal challenge. The Supreme Court's decision made the Roadless Rule, the law of the land.

Recreation and the Future of Our National Forests

The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protected the nation's last remaining unprotected pristine wildlands in our National Forest. All 58.5 million acres of National Forest lands covered by the rule continued to be open to the public for recreational purposes, allowing millions of Americans to enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, canoeing, rock climbing, and a host of other activities. As National Forests draw ever-increasing numbers of visitors each year, protection of these last undisturbed lands achieved the necessary balance between conservation, recreation, and industrial development.

In addition to ensuring access to popular recreational lands, protecting roadless recreational lands is important economically. According to studies, approximately 85 percent of the revenue generated from our National Forests comes from recreational activities - more than five times the amount logging provides. According to the Department of the Interior, U.S. parks and forests, including the 58,500,000 acres affected by the roadless policy, provide an estimated $100,000,000,000 in recreational benefits and support more than 300,000 jobs each year.

Many of America’s favorite outdoor recreation trails, including the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail, are among the thousands of trails formally protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Policy.

Roadless pie chart courtesy of the Heritage Forest Campaign.