What is the Roadless Rule?

The Roadless Rule has worked in favor of conservationists since 2001. According to the US Forest Service definition of the rule, it was intended to “provide lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System.”

Image: Sam Ortiz

The rule protects roughly 58.5 million acres of roadless areas, ensuring that wild and undeveloped forests are safe from future development. There are many benefits to having large expanses of land that are undisturbed or unfragmented by human development. One benefit is that this undeveloped land can be utilized for various forms of human-powered recreation. In addition to the outdoor recreation perks, these lands protect many valuable ecosystem services like animal and plant biodiversity, clean air, fresh water, and even aid in climate stability through carbon capture and storage. 

Here’s a great infographic on the roadless rule and how it affects recreation via Outdoor Alliance– head to their website for an interactive map of Roadless areas in the US:


Where are we now and how can I take action?

Both Alaska and Utah are attempting to change or roll back roadless protections of National Forest Lands in their states. As soon as one state decides it is a good idea to create a state-specific Roadless Rule, it can be expected that many other states will follow suit. This is a slippery slope when it comes to conservation and protecting recreation spaces nationwide. Let’s look a bit further into what Utah and Alaska are proposing:

Utah: 

  • Utah is a fierce proponent of local control over public lands, so it was no surprise that the state petitioned the Forest Service to create a “Utah-specific Roadless Rule” in order to roll back protections on forests under the Roadless Rule.
  • Approximately 50% of Utah’s Forests are designated as “Roadless”
  • According to Outdoor Alliance: 9% of Inventoried Roadless Areas would be released from protections entirely, 79% would have protections from logging drastically reduced, and only 12% of existing areas would retain current protection, 0% would be given heightened protections.
  • The petition is vague, unspecific, and there is no site-specific analysis.
  • In response to a report published by Defenders of Wildlife, the organization’s Director of Federal Lands said it showed “how shortsighted it would be to accept the state’s proposal to sacrifice millions of acres of intact habitat and healthy watersheds for more logging and roadbuilding. Utah’s national forest roadless areas, like roadless areas across the National Forest System, are sanctuaries for fish and wildlife as well as magnets for human recreation.”

Sign the petition to protect Utah’s backcountry forests through Outdoor Alliance’s easy-to-use letter writing tool.

Alaska:

Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Photo: Sam Ortiz
  • Alaska is home to one of the largest coastal temperate rainforests, some of the world’s oldest trees, and a long history of logging
  • More than half of the Tongass’ 17 million acres of land are protected by the Roadless Rule
  • With the support of a powerful timber lobby, Alaska is hoping to release 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest for logging through an exemption of the Roadless Rule

Defend the Roadless Rule and the Tongass National Forest through the Outdoor Alliance easy-to-use letter writing tool: Comment by December 17, 2019.


Resources:

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news. 

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