USA: Roadless rules rule again, at least temporarily?

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a temporary order yesterday (last thursday) governing development in "roadless" areas of national forests, requiring all new projects to be approved by him personally. Vilsack's order, which will be in effect for a year, is the latest turn in an eight-year-old battle over 58.5 million acres of pristine woods. President Bill Clinton made these areas off-limits in 2001, but President George W. Bush effectively reopened some in 2005. That led to a series of court cases that ultimately replaced the national policy with a patchwork of regional rules.

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Vilsack, whose purview includes the U.S. Forest Service, did what environmental groups had been urging: call a "timeout." Agriculture Department officials said that while the temporary order is in effect, the Obama administration and Congress will try to create a permanent policy on roadless regions. They said Vilsack's caseload is not expected to be large: Over the past eight years, one official estimated, 30 to 40 projects have been proposed in these areas. "We're raising the level of scrutiny," said Chris Mather, a spokeswoman for Vilsack.


"From this moment . . . we are going to make sure that our forests are protected in all projects we approve." In most of the country, USDA officials said, managers of individual forests have been deciding where to allow development. They did not permit much: One official said that about 70 miles of road had been built in these areas over the past eight years. And during that time, the official said, more miles of road were eliminated in these areas. Jim Matson of the Utah Forest Products Association said he is glad that the Obama administration is working on a national policy because years of limbo have made it hard for businesses to plan. "You've got communities and workers and capital tied up while — basically, while the feds figure out what they want to be when they grow up," Matson said.

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Take ActionJune 1st, 2009 at 11:17 pm

TAKE ACTION: Tell the White House – Protect Roadless Areas of National Forests

This week, the Obama administration took an important first step toward maintaining the president’s pledge to uphold the landmark
2001 Roadless Rule and restoring the protections it provided to nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forest lands.
Earthjustice has been on the forefront of defending these wild forests against repeated assaults by the timber industry and the previous administration.

On Thursday, the administration announced that, during the next year, all plans for roadbuilding, logging, or other development in roadless forests must be reviewed personally by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service. The most immediate and significant effect is to potentially put a hold on roadless timber sales that have been scheduled in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining old-growth temperate forest in the world.

TAKE ACTION: Thank Secretary Vilsack and urge him to finish the job!


Please thank Secretary Vilsack for this important first step toward upholding the President’s pledge. But while you’re doing it, also remind him that there’s still more to do to uphold the Roadless Rule and protect our wild forests.

National Forest roadless areas are the last remaining strongholds for grizzly bears, wolves, elk, salmon, and trout.
The forests protected by this rule provide vital habitat for 1,500 wildlife species, safeguard drinking water supplies for 60 million Americans, and ensure quality recreation for millions of hikers, fishermen, and hunters.

The Bush administration and the timber industry did all it could to undermine the rule. As a result, magnificent forests in many states, including the Tongass, are currently not protected.
Although this week’s temporary order includes the Tongass, it excludes the entire state of Idaho and does nothing to stop the expansion of the Smoky Canyon Mine into roadless areas of Idaho’s Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Americans — hunters and anglers, religious leaders, scientists, backpackers, and many more — support roadless protection by a margin of 10 to 1. They know that roadless areas are valuable for recreation, wildlife habitat, climate adaptation, and clean water supplies for hundreds of communities.

Take a stand today for wild forests — thank Secretary Vilsack and urge him to finish the job.

TAKE ACTION: Thank Secretary Vilsack and urge him to finish the job!

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