Sunset - Southern Nantahala Wilderness e

2001 Roadless Rule Victory Extends Protection Nationwide

Approximately 64,873 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas are designated as Roadless Areas in Georgia. In addition, 8,590 acres have been recommended by the Forest Service as “Wilderness Study Areas” to be considered for future inclusion in the National Wilderness System.

by Darren Wolfgang – Forest Ecologist

On October 21, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, Colorado, issued a unanimous decision that found that the roadless rule did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act, Wilderness Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, or the National Forest Management Act as opponents to the 2001 Roadless Rule alleged. As a result the U.S. Forest Service will be required to adhere to the land management standards outlined in the 2001 Inventory Roadless Area Conservation Rule — protecting about 49 million of the 58.5 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas in the United States.

On the Chattahoochee National Forest here in Georgia, approximately 64,873 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas have been designated under its Land and Resource Management Plan. In addition to our roadless areas, 177,183 acres have been designated by Congress as Wilderness. Areas currently designated as roadless serve as the best chance to be designated as Wilderness in the future. Of the 64,873 acres of roadless areas in Georgia, only 8,590 acres have been recommended by the Forest Service as “Wilderness Study Areas” to be considered for future inclusion in the National Wilderness System. These protective designations apply to roughly 27% of the 867,000 acres of the Chattahoochee- Oconee National Forests. Georgia ForestWatch, along with numerous other conservation partners will continue to advocate for preserving an adequate portion of our public forests to retain their wild and scenic character for the enjoyment and appreciation of current and future generations.

“Setting some aside” is a prudent measure to ensure the health of our ecosystems, the quality of our air and water, and to ensure the numerous other benefits of large tracts of intact land will be around for future generations to benefit from and enjoy. As our society and population continue to grow and expand, lands of the “public commons” such as National Parks and National Forests will continue grow in importance and will likely become the last remaining “wild” areas and open spaces in the future.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, national forests serve as the prime source of clean drinking water for 60 million Americans. Further, these forests provide valuable habitat for more than 1,600 threatened or endangered plants, fish, and wildlife species. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that National Forests generate a significant portion of the outdoor industry’s $750 billion in annual revenue. While some opponents of this legislation argue that too much protection will have adverse effects on local resource extraction industries, this legislation will prohibit excessive roads building and perhaps help the Forest Service address and avoid increasing its $10 billion backlog in road maintenance. In many cases, the revenue temporarily derived from timber harvesting is simply insufficient to support the ever- increasing annual road maintenance costs associated with adding more and more miles to an already fiscally unsustainable roads infrastructure.

It is worth noting that Inventoried Roadless Areas are not as restrictive as Wilderness. They differ from Congressionally designated Wilderness in that programmatic approach of certain management activities will be permitted on a case-bycase basis in the roadless areas. Among them:

*Limited road construction to fight fires, address forest health, and protect public safety.
*Logging of certain timber to reduce the risk of wildfires.
*Circumstantial expansion of oil and gas operations within existing or renewed leased areas.

This decision, largely considered one of the most significant conservation victories in several decades, was born from a decade long fight to uphold the 2001 Rule. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Washington), introduced legislation – the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2011 – with 130 co-sponsors to codify the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

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