Protecting Roadless Areas

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Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, along with 17 members of the Southeast’s congressional delegation, are joining more than 150 congressmen from both sides of the aisle to introduce a bill in the House and Senate today that would permanently protect 58.5 million acres of America’s premiere public land. It is the strongest showing yet of congressional support from the Southeast for protecting “roadless” areas on the national forest, including 723,000 acres in the Southern Appalachians.

“The roadless areas on our national forests represent an essential part of America’s natural heritage,” says David Carr, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We applaud the promise that these members of Congress made today to future generations to ensure these lands will remain healthy and whole.”

The bill codifies the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted in 2001 after years of scientific review, more than 600 public meetings, and a record number of official public comments.  Over the years, the Forest Service has received more than 4.2 million public comments supporting strong, permanent protection of these remote, wild areas.

One of the first acts of the Bush Administration was to suspend the rule. In 2005, the administration eliminated national protection and adopted its own rule giving governors the option to petition for protection of roadless areas in their states.  A federal appeals court in August affirmed that the Bush approach was illegal and reinstated the 2001 rule.

President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have expressed support for a national rule, and as senator, Obama co-sponsored the same legislation. However, there are still those challenging the national rule including the states of Wyoming (through legal action) and Colorado ( by developing their own rule).

Passage of today’s legislation would ensure that roadless areas are permanently protected without jeopardy from changing administrations.  While protecting the last one-third of our threatened national forests from most logging and road-building, the bill allows new roads when needed to fight fires and ensure public health and safety.

Roadless areas are especially critical in the Southern Appalachians, where early settlement and farming reached into almost every nook of the mountain forests. Today, the areas that qualify for roadless designation are fewer and smaller than in the west, putting them at a premium as a sanctuary for native wildlife, providing clean water for hundreds of communities, and offering some of the best outdoor recreation spots to be found east of the Mississippi.

The national forests in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia are already criss-crossed by more than 12,000 miles of roads, many of which are not properly maintained. The Forest Service has a $10 billion backlog on road maintenance nationwide.

Senate sponsors from the Southeast: Mark Warner and Jim Webb (VA), Kay Hagan (NC)
House sponsors from the Southeast: Hank Johnson, John Lewis, Jim Marshall, David Scott (GA); G.K. Butterfield, Brad Miller, David Price, Melvin Watt (NC); John Spratt (SC); Steven Cohen, Jim Cooper (TN); Rick Boucher, Gerry Connolly Jim Moran,  Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello, Bobby Scott (VA)

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