Protecting Roadless Areas

A Clinton Administration executive order sought to federally eliminate road building on 58.5 million acres of national forest in 39 states, or about one-third of national forest lands. This would make these areas inaccessible for recreation and maintenance. The Bush Administration has called for local Parks managers, local officials and citizens to develop plans for maintaining and preserving individual parks.

While some environmental groups would have you believe that the Bush Administration has rolled back the "roadless rule" to protect wilderness, this cannot be further from the truth.

Two federal judges ruled that the Clinton-era Rule was illegal:
  • While environmental groups claim that 1.6 million pieces of public opinion were collected before the regulation was made, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge disagreed, calling the input process "grossly inadequate" and "an obvious violation" of federal law.
  • Further, U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer struck down the Roadless Rule, stating it was made in "political haste" and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act.
At issue is whether or not simply "locking away" these lands is the best way to preserve them. Making these wilderness areas inaccessible would mean that maintenance will be impossible and the forests will be increasingly susceptible to catastrophic wildfires and insect infestation.

Having a road does not mean the forest would be open for logging, mining, or even some forms of recreation. Laws and regulations to protect the ecosystem and wildlife habitat would still govern a wilderness area, national park, or similar protected area.

The Bush Administration launched a new proposal to protect our national parks and grasslands. Instead of a sweeping federal rule, it requires park and land managers to work with Governors and local communities to develop roadless plans for specific areas. This will produce balanced plans that could create some roads, which are especially needed to combat wildfires, but will also set aside other areas as wildlife habitat and for recreation.