A milestone for our forests turns 20

Twenty years ago the conservation movement earned a huge victory. In January 2001, federal protections designating nearly 60 million acres of our national forests as roadless areas went into effect.

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Ellen Montgomery
Director, Public Lands Campaign

Author: Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., Oberlin College

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Twenty years ago the conservation movement earned a huge victory. In January 2001, federal protections designating nearly 60 million acres of our national forests as roadless areas went into effect. By being designated “roadless” these wild spaces are off limits for road building and commercial logging, allowing ecosystems and the wildlife to thrive. This wouldn’t have happened with countless hours of work from organizers and volunteers from dozens of environmental groups over several years. 

To celebrate our wild forests and tell the story of the massive on-the-ground effort it took to win these protections, staff and alumni from The Public Interest Network’s organizations, including Environment AmericaU.S. PIRG and the Student PIRGs, produced this video. 

I was there during some of the key early days of this campaign as a student activist at Oberlin College. I was drawn to this effort because I not only wanted to save the trees but also yearned for an opportunity to be part of something much bigger than myself. As a volunteer with Ohio PIRG, a state-based student group that was connected to a national coalition of environmental groups, I worked with so many others to convince the Clinton administration to protect 58.5 million acres of national forests from road-building and commercial logging.

I collected petitions in front of the student union, inside the mailroom, in front of the grocery stores. I also trained other volunteers to collect petitions, which were on postcard-sized pieces of cardstock. Every 100 you collected could be piled into a satisfyingly thick pile and wrapped with a rubber band. We shipped them to the D.C. office by the thousands.

In the end, environmental organizers and activists collected and delivered 1.6 million public comments. We gathered around a radio listening to NPR in early January 2001, listening to the announcement that the Roadless Rule had been enacted. And notably, we did it old school. With online petitions barely in use at the time, we made our impact without a digital program. 

Motivated by early success, I have spent the last 20 years organizing. I’ve worked to register voters, pass 100% renewable energy resolutions, lobby for clean cars standards and built support for bans on single-use plastics. I have worked on very local campaigns, state-level initiatives and on national efforts. It’s a great feeling to look back on those 20 years and know that one of my first victories was lasting and significant.

Ellen Montgomery
Director, Public Lands Campaign

Author: Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., Oberlin College

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.