Senator Cantwell Introduces Legislation to Permanently Protect Nearly 60 Million Acres of Public 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 Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 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.
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 waterfrom 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 recreationhas 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 speciesis 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’ dollarson 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.