After decades of scientific inquiry, 600 public hearings, and a record 1.6 million comments from the American public, the Clinton administration issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in January 2001. The Roadless Rule, as it is commonly known, originally protected 58.5 million acres of wild national forest land from most commercial logging and road-building, and associated mining and drilling. Since then, the Bush administration has removed these protections from 9.5 million acres of roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest.
For the remaining 49 million acres of America’s last wild national forests, the 2001 Roadless Rule ensures that they will continue to provide clean drinking water for millions of Americans, wildlife habitat, endless recreational opportunities, and other important values. The rule also compels the U.S. Forest Service to address the estimated $10.3 billion backlog in needed maintenance for existing roads, instead of using taxpayer dollars to build new roads.
The American people have spoken in favor of protecting roadless areas within our national forests. Since 2000, Pennsylvania residents have submitted 112,179 comments, with the overwhelming majority of them in favor of protecting the state’s 25,000 acres of roadless forests.
The strong public support for protecting roadless areas can be understood by looking at their economic and ecological values:
Sixty million Americans rely on drinking water from national forests. Roadless areas, because of their pristine condition, provide some of the purest sources of these essential water supplies. In the Eastern Forest Service Region, which includes Pennsylvania, drinking water is worth $252.8 million annually.
Recreation in national forests has become more and more popular over time as Americans participate in activities from bicycling and hiking to fishing and hunting. In 2006, 4.2 million Pennsylvania residents took part in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching; that same year, wildlife-related recreation contributed $4 billion to the state economy.
Some of the most unspoiled habitat for threatened, endangered, and declining species is found in roadless areas. Pennsylvania’s national forests are home to four at-risk species that could be harmed by destruction of roadless areas.
Despite the many benefits national forests provide, historically, their value has been measured solely by the timber products they produce. Through subsidies to the timber industry and road construction at taxpayers’ expense, the Forest Service has sold timber from national forest land to timber companies at such a low price that the agency loses millions of dollars each year.
More recently, the Bush administration has fought to dismantle the 2001 Roadless Rule and to open these pristine lands to development. This threatens not only the ecological value of these lands but the revenue provided by those who participate in recreational activities in our last wild national forests. For hunters, hikers, and campers alike, the wild characteristics of these untouched lands are what draw them to our national forests. The 2001 Roadless Rule ensures that communities that rely on income from recreation in these last wild national forests will continue to have it for years to come. After all, national forest roadless areas belong to all Americans and deserve federal protection.
The Bush administration’s attack on the Roadless Rule is in keeping with their other numerous harmful policies, such as the so-called “Healthy Forests” initiative, which increases logging and removes environmental safeguards under the guise of preventing forest fires.
In the short term, the timber companies, mining companies, and energy companies that support the Bush administration’s policies stand to benefit from attacks on protections for roadless forests, making millions at taxpayers’ expense. However, it is the long term losses to the American public that we need to consider. Roadless areas are among the nation’s greatest natural assets and their ecological and economic value is too great to sacrifice. Our last wild national forests should be protected once and for all.