Rethinking the roadless rule 

Just when you thought that roadless areas were off the chopping block, a local conservation group has issued a report warning that significant changes to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule may be imminent.

“If the Roadless Rule is reversed, as we expect it will be, 9.5 million acres of roadless wildlands in Montana and Idaho will be opened to logging and road building,” the Native Forest Network’s Matt Koehler said. “Already we have 67,000 miles of roads on our National Forests in Montana and Idaho. The maintenance backlog on those existing roads is $1.3 billion. From a fiscal point of view, from a social point of view, what we need is a massive road reduction program, not more road building, logging and development.”

Native Forest Network released the report on May 4, two years to the day after Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman pledged to uphold the Roadless Rule.

Since then, Veneman’s undersecretary, Mark Rey, has worked diligently to “gut” the rule, NFN said.

“The department’s position is that they are still considering their options at this point, after being enjoined by the court in Wyoming,” said John Twiss, a special assistant to Rey.

The enjoinment he’s talking about happened in July of 2001, when a Wyoming U.S. District Court judge declared that the Roadless Rule violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Wilderness Act.

If changes occur to the Rule, 3.8 million acres of Montana’s 6.4 million acres of roadless land will again be eligible for logging and road building. Idaho will have another 5.6 million acres in the same boat. The Roadless Rule, enacted in January of 2001, is considered a landmark conservation initiative that nationally placed 58.5 million acres of public land off limits to road building.

“We went through a process for two or three years [to adopt the Roadless Rule], the Forest Service held over 600 public meetings, over two million people commented and 95 percent of the people who commented favored full protection,” Koehler said. “I think this comes down to an issue of trust.”

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