Local Washington Stakeholders Cheer Senator Cantwell’s Introduction of Bill to Permanently Protect Roadless Forests
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has introduced legislation that would codify administrative protections for about nearly 60 million acres of ancient forests, salmon spawning streams and sources for safe and clean drinking water on national forest lands protected by the 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule). The action comes after legislative attempts to weaken the Roadless Rule failed in Congress earlier this year and in response to a pending request to weaken the Rule through a new rulemaking process.
Here in Washington State we have about 2 million acres of roadless areas. They are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean and safe drinking water, protection for fish and wildlife, and amazing back country recreation experiences.
A storm is gathering around our national forest roadless areas with protections being threatened both locally and nationally. Senator Cantwell, as she has done many times before, is stepping up to ensure that our roadless forests will remain protected for future generations.
Between 1999 and 2001 the Roadless Rule was established as part of one of the largest rulemakings in the history of the federal government. The Rule prohibited new road construction in the nearly 60 million acres of remaining intact forests and watersheds within the National Forest System.
After Congress removed legislative riders to an appropriation bill in March of this year that would have repealed protections for roadless forests in the State of Alaska, members of the Alaska delegation have formally petitioned the Trump Administration to administratively exempt national forest roadless areas in Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach National Forests. There is great concern that a nationwide repeal by the current Administration on roadless areas is next, similar to attempts made in 2004 and 2006 under President George W. Bush.
“Roadless areas represent some of the best of what our forests have to offer – clean drinking water, world-class recreation and real value drivers to our economy,” said Megan Birzell, National Forest Campaign Manager for The Wilderness Society. “Permanently protecting the Roadless Rule through legislation would better preserve the integrity and intrinsic value of our national forests at a time when so many environmental laws are being attacked by the Trump Administration.”
The support for roadless forests in Washington State has always been, and continues to be strong. In March, a diverse group of 152 conservation, recreation, wildlife and hunting and fishing organizations as well as faith leaders, local businesses and elected officials from Washington State sent a letter in support of existing protections for roadless areas. The letter, coordinated by Washington Wild, was sent to all twelve members of the Washington Congressional delegation raising concerns about congressional and administrative attacks on national forest roadless areas.
“The areas of our national forests without roads are often some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife,” said John McGlenn, President of Washington Wildlife Federation which represents hunters and anglers around the state. “These refuges are critical to ensuring that we are able to pass on this legacy to future generations.”
Washington’s roadless forests also provide popular recreational activities like hiking, climbing, paddling, hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, horseback riding and mountain biking that add to the unique quality of life we all enjoy here in the Washington State. These incredible landscapes also inspire homegrown companies like REI, Filson and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear or opportunities.
“These wild places are the lifeblood of our local economy,” said Lance Reif, owner of Wildwater River Guides in Leavenworth, WA. “Roadless areas provide the reasons why so many of us choose to live work and play here in the Evergreen State.”
Here in Washington State, over the last year, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has already greenlighted or proposed two projects that allow new road building in roadless areas, the Olivine Mine and Excelsior Mine Expansions. Continuing to allow roadbuilding in roadless areas, and allowing statewide exemptions, sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in roadless areas. This puts clean water, backcountry recreation, ancient forests and wildlife habitat at risk.
“Roadless areas protect the headwaters and the source of clean quality water for fish, wildlife, residents and better tasting beer,” said Jack Lamb, CEO of Aslan Brewing in Bellingham and member of Washington Wild’s Brewshed® Alliance.
In 2001 Washington Wild led statewide efforts to establish the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Nearly 350 conservation and recreation groups, elected officials, local businesses, and faith leaders formally supported the nearly two million acres of roadless forests in Washington State. The Forest Service held more than 600 public meetings nationwide, including 28 throughout Washington State. More than 1.6 million Americans submitted comments, including more than 80,000 comments from Washington State, during the draft rule comment period. More than 95% of comments submitted were in support of protecting roadless areas.
The Roadless Rule is a popular and balanced policy that protects nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped national forests from road-building and other industrial activity. It was developed over two years and issued by the Clinton Administration in early 2001.
Roadless areas are important because:
- Sixty million Americans rely on clean and safe drinking water from National Forests. Roadless areas provide the purest source of that water due to their pristine and road-free condition. In the Northwest Forest Service Region, which includes Washington and Oregon, drinking water on National Forest land is worth approximately $941 million annually, which is more than any other region or state in the country except California.
- Outdoor recreation has become more popular over time as Americans participate in everything from hiking and camping, to hunting and fishing in Roadless areas. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, each year the outdoor industry generates $26.2 billion in consumer spending and 200,000 direct jobs to the Washington State economy.
- A majority of the unspoiled habitat for hundreds of threatened, endangered, and declining species is found in roadless areas. In Washington, 25 at-risk species, including bald eagles, steelhead and bull trout, and Chinook salmon are found in National Forests and could be harmed by the building of new roads and the ensuing destruction of roadless areas.
- Roadless protections also make good economic sense by saving taxpayers’ dollars on the cost of adding subsidized logging roads to the existing network of more than 370,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $8 billion.