DeGette files bill to permanently protect nearly 60 million acres of national forests across the U.S.

May 2, 2019
Press Release
Measure would strip Trump administration of its authority to modify ‘roadless rule’ protections currently in place

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation today to permanently protect nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped national forest in 39 states.

The legislation – known as the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019 – would make permanent the U.S. Forest Service’s so-called roadless rule, which it put in place in 2001 to limit road construction and timber harvesting in 58.5 million acres of undeveloped forests throughout the country – including 4.2 million acres in Colorado.

“The roadless rule is one of the nation’s most broadly supported environmental policies that protects tens of millions of acres of untouched forest land for people to enjoy,” DeGette said. “But now, suddenly, it’s under attack.”

Despite the overwhelmingly broad support that the Forest Service’s roadless rule has received over the years, two states – Alaska and Utah – have recently filed petitions seeking exemptions to the rule to open up a combined 13 million acres of untouched national forests within their borders.

The U.S. Forest Service, which is now under the control of the Trump administration and has the authority to grant such exemptions, is currently considering the states’ requests and is widely expected to approve them soon.

In 2016, Colorado sought and received an exemption of its own from the U.S. Forest Service to open up 19,700 acres of roadless forests in the North Fork Valley to expand mining activities there.

If approved, DeGette’s legislation would prevent the Forest Service from granting any further exemptions to the rule – including the two exemptions sought by Alaska and Utah. By codifying the roadless rule into law, DeGette’s bill would make it permanent and irrevocable by the current, or any future, administrations.

“The Trump administration has shown that it is determined to undo many of the policies that we have put in place over the years to protect our public lands,” DeGette said. “While administrations change over time, the destruction that would be caused to these forests if these exemptions were approved could never be undone. That’s why it’s more important than ever before that we codify this rule into law and take away this administration – and any other future administration’s – ability to undo these vital protections.”

Roadless areas in national forests are major economic drivers for many local communities, as they often draw hunters, hikers and others who are seeking to enjoy the solitude that these vast places offer. In 2001, to protect these areas from future commercial development and destructive logging activities, the U.S. Forest Service put in place the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, also known as the “roadless rule.”

In April 2018, Alaska filed a petition for an exemption from the rule to ramp up logging activities within the Tongass National Forest. If approved, that exemption would undo the protections given to nine million acres of national forest in that state alone. Likewise, in Feb. 2019, Utah filed a petition of its own seeking an exemption to remove the protections currently given to four million acres of national forest within its borders.

DeGette’s legislation, which would prevent the Forest Service from granting those exemptions and any others – such as the one it granted to Colorado in 2016 – is cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

The bill is supported by several leading conservation groups, including: Earthjustice, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust, Geos Institute and Wildearth Guardians.

A copy of the legislation is available here.