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Hiker in Red Rock Canyon
Science and Health:
Update: The Roadless Rule
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Update 10/1/04: On July 16, 2004, the Forest Service published a proposed rule to revise regulations concerning the Roadless Area Conservation Rule explained below. The proposed rule would allow governors to petition the Secretary of Agriculture to establish or adjust management direction that exists in forest plans for inventoried roadless areas within the state. The public comment period on this rule is slated to end on November 15, 2004.

Roadless Area Conservation Rule

In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration was working on a new proposal to protect wilderness areas in the National Forest System from road construction. It was referred to as the "Roadless Rule." Its aim was to limit logging and stop environmental damage to the land.

Early in January, 2001, President Bill Clinton issued the Roadless Area Conservation Policy directive, ending virtually all logging; roadbuilding; and coal, gas, oil, and other mineral leasing in 58 million acres of the wildest remaining national forests lands.

The rule, one of the many new policies pushed into place during the final days of the Clinton administration, was the direct result of a tremendous outpouring of public support — more than 1.6 million comments were submitted to the federal government during the comment period, the majority of which favored keeping the country's woods road-free. (Read the Summary of Public Comment.) The roadless policy rule was published in the Federal Register on January 12, 2001.

Usually, a rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. After it takes affect, it is law and can only be overturned by either an act of Congress or an official new rulemaking process. However, the Bush administration caught the roadless rule within this 60-day window, and its implementation was delayed numerous times. In May 2001, just two days before the rule was poised to take effect, Federal Judge Edward Lodge issued a preliminary injunction against the rule.

A ruling in December 2002 by a federal appeals court reversed the injunction and reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, deeming nearly 60 million acres of public forests nationwide off-limits to the construction of permanent new roads. While environmentalists were delighted at this decision, timber companies were disappointed.

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