Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW on PBS
Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Act NOW
Week of 2.22.08

Roadless Rule 101

Learn more about the "Roadless Rule," how it originated, and the threats it faces today.

What is the Roadless Rule?
Are roadless areas the same as wilderness areas?
What is the background of the Roadless Rule?
Is my state affected by the Roadless Rule?
Who supports the rule? Who opposes the rule?
Why is Idaho a particularly important area?
How can I state my opinion on the Roadless Rule protections?

What is the Roadless Rule?
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule is administered by the U.S. Forest Service and protects the last remaining "wildlands" in our national forests. Implemented in 2001, during the last days of the Clinton administration, the Roadless Rule places about one-third of the national forests off limits to virtually all road building, logging and development.

Are roadless areas the same as wilderness areas?
Roadless areas are different than wilderness areas essentially because of the way the designated forest lands are managed. The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, unlike the establishment of wilderness areas, permits a wide range of activities in roadless areas. Permitted activities include timber harvesting for limited purposes, livestock grazing, off-highway vehicle use, and oil and gas development that do not require new roads to continue in roadless areas. Unlike wilderness areas, which are protected by Congress under the Wilderness Act, roadless areas do not have a final rule and have been prescribed individual state-specific rules as well as nationwide prohibitions under different administrations.

What is the background of the Roadless Rule?
The Roadless Rule was first issued by President Bill Clinton's administration in January 2001, as a national guideline, ending virtually all logging, road building and development in America's wildest remaining national forests. But, in 2004, the Bush administration issued a new state-by-state rule that would allow state governors to petition the U.S. Forest Service regarding how much land they want protected in their state. In 2005, Clinton's rule was officially abandoned leaving the use and protection of the land up to state governors. On September 20, 2006, a federal district court ordered reinstatement of the Clinton-era Roadless Rule to protect almost 50 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from road building, logging and development. The Bush administration immediately appealed that decision and then went back to the states and asked them to resubmit their petitions and re-start the entire rulemaking process. On the same day, Idaho Gov. Jim Risch was the first governor to file a petition opposing most of the roadless rule protections, potentially affecting around 9 million acres of roadless land in his state. For a complete timeline of the rule visit EarthJustice.org

Is my state affected by the Roadless Rule?
The Roadless Rule protects 58.5 million acres of unspoiled national forests in 39 states, equal to 2% of the U.S. land base. States containing roadless areas include Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Arizona. Some states have submitted petitions seeking state-specific rules that weaken or repeal the protections of the original Roadless Rule. Idaho has submitted a petition allowing road building and logging in most of the state's more than 9 million acres of roadless areas. Colorado's Gov. Ritter has submitted a roadless petition including exemptions for ski areas, grazing, and coal mining in his state. Public comment periods are expected to follow.
Find out what's going on in your state
Map of roadless areas by state
Map of forests affected

Who supports the rule? Who opposes the rule?
An overwhelming, and bipartisan, majority of Americans support the original rule, according to the Heritage Forests Campaign. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service has received more than 2.5 million comments on the rule - more than 95 percent in favor of complete roadless protection. Logging and mining industries tend to support the Bush administration's decision to scrap the original rule and applaud their state-by-state approach because it allows for more development opportunities.

Why is Idaho a particularly important area?
All eyes are on Idaho, where there is a new proposal that would repeal most protections for roadless areas in the state. The federal government is inviting public comment on the proposal through April 7, 2008. Idaho is the first up but the Bush administration is also considering proposals that would affect 4.4 million acres in Colorado's roadless area in the Rocky Mountains. In December of 2007, the Bush administration released proposed changes to the Roadless Rule governing Idaho. Click here to read the proposed changes.

How can I state my opinion on the Roadless Rule protections?
You can attend a public comment meeting and find out more about the roadless rule in your area as well as send letters and email comments to the U.S. Forest Service. Regarding Colorado's national forests, letters can be sent here. In Idaho, the public is invited to express support or opposition to the proposed Idaho changes until April 7, 2008, via written comments sent by:
E-mail: IDcomments@fsroadless.org
Website form: http://www.regulations.gov
Mail: Roadless Area Conservation-Idaho, P.O. Box 162909,Sacramento, CA 95816-2909, or via facsimile to 916-456-6724

Sources:
U.S. Forest Service
Heritage Forests Campaign
NRDC
Wilderness Society
OurForests.org