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Unnoticed by many, two members of Congress from Washington have decided it's about time to do something to resolve the seemingly endless debate over the future of our last roadless lands. Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee, both Democrats, have re-introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act (S.1738, H.R. 3563) to codify the Clinton-era Roadless Rule that has been on a legal roller coaster for the past nine years.

Roadless Rule Bill: the Timing is Right, so Just Pass It

Unnoticed by many, two members of Congress from Washington have decided it’s about time to do something to resolve the seemingly endless debate over the future of our last roadless lands.

Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee, both Democrats, have re-introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act (S.1738, H.R. 3563) to codify the Clinton-era Roadless Rule that has been on a legal roller coaster for the past nine years.

“Our last remaining roadless areas are a cherished legacy that must be protected under law for generations to come, not left a victim to the back-and-forth of court opinions,” Cantwell, who is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with jurisdiction over public lands, said in a press release. “It would be shortsighted and reckless to permit logging, road-building and mining to degrade these untouched lands. This act is not just good environmental policy, but it is also smart fiscal policy–it prevents the government from wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and allows the Forest Service to shift focus to its maintenance backlog. With so few genuinely pristine places left in our country, it is time we permanently hand these wild forests over to the American people, not special interests.”

Regrettably, you won’t hear anything like that from any U.S. Senator hailing from the New West, which is precisely why the debate over roadless seems endless.

I’ve always wondered why this legislation, which has been introduced continuously since 2002, has gone nowhere, even though perhaps the most exhaustive public involvement ever showed that the vast majority of Americans (about four million sending in comments) support it. That’s the first question I asked Congressman Inslee during our phone interview.

“In part, it might be because the rule has been in place and that has provided some protection,” Inslee answered, “but we think it is important to do on a legislative basis, so we don’t have to worry about what the President will do every four years. Americans spoke and they wanted protection for their pristine areas. These are national treasures, and we have to take care of them.”

Again, that’s something you won’t hear from any U.S. Representative from the New West.

Conservationists clearly agree with Inslee. “Many within the sportsmen’s community want to see the long-term conservation of our national forest roadless areas,” Joel Webster of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership told NewWest.Net. “Most recently, more than 225 hunter/angler businesses and organizations joined together in an effort known as Banking on the Backcountry and sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that the maximum acreage of national forest roadless areas be conserved. The TRCP believes a strong national roadless rule, codified through legislation, is the best way to ensure that the backcountry is sustained for future generations of sportsmen.”

While strongly supporting for this ongoing legislative effort, conservationists have also voiced concerns about the current Roadless Rule. First, it does little, if anything, to stem the advance of ATVs and other motor vehicles, much of it unauthorized or illegal, into the pristine areas and resulting in destruction of the qualities that might qualify them for future inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Second, the Roadless Rule is packed with exemptions allowing various forest management activities that local foresters can bend into justification for building roads and destroying wilderness values.

But Inslee said his bill doesn’t address those concerns and probably won’t. There’s always a chance of an amendment, but right now, the legislation is an exact codification of the Roadless Rule as first enacted back in 2001.

Despite past failures, Inslee believes the bill’s chances are much better this time. “We have a President who will uphold the rule. It’s night and day between Obama and Bush, who did everything he could to violate the rule.”

On top of that, he added, “we have more co-sponsors than ever.”

No doubt the bill has an impressive line-up–154 co-sponsors in the House and 24 in the Senate. Regrettably, though, the list of 180 sponsors and co-sponsors includes only nine Republican representatives (all from east of the Mississippi) and no Republican senators.

Cantwell and Inslee refer to their bill as “bipartisan,” which might be wishful thinking.

But should this matter? Democrats have the majorities, so with or without Republicans, they should be able to pass it, and President Obama would sign it.

Seems simple enough, but then we have this insane congressional protocol where a bill must have support from the state’s senators and representatives or it goes nowhere, even if it deals with federal lands owned by all Americans. Among western states containing most of our remaining roadless forests, only Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have senators and representatives willing to sponsor or co-sponsor the codification of the Roadless Rule, and even that support is spotty. Here in the New West, it’s the same, sad story–not a single member of the Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah or Wyoming delegations willing to support protecting our roadless lands.

And then, if not more worrisome and embarrassing, key Dems are MIA and could keep the bill from passing.

In the Senate, even Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester, narrowly elected two years ago after a hard-fought campaign partially because he promised to protect roadless lands, is not on the co-sponsor list, nor is Montana’s senior senator Max Baucus, Colorado’s Mark Udall or Nevada’s Harry Reid, all Democrats.

Same goes for the House–no support from key Dems in “roadless land states” such as Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords, Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell; Colorado’s Jared Polis; Washington’s Norman Dicks; Idaho’s Walt Minnick; and Utah’s Jim Matheson.

But protecting our roadless lands does have solid Democratic support from Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio and most other eastern states.

Such a line-up is hardly breaking news. Over and over, mostly Democrats, mostly hailing from states without significant acreages of national forests seem to stand alone in caring about protecting our roadless lands.

But in this case, does this all-to-common political landscape matter? The codification has some support from some roadless land states, but enough to prompt Congress to actually vote on something 90 percent of Americans want? Will Dems close ranks and just pass it?

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  1. Just for the record and please note, Rep. Adam Smith (WA) is an original cosponsor of this legislation. He has been a long time supporter of this conservation policy and a champion in protecting our wild roadless areas in our great state of Washington and throughout the country. And as a constiuent and supporter of Rep. Dicks and his good work, there is no doubt that if or when this bill makes it to the floor of Congress, that Rep. Dicks will back this policy 100%.

    I also think it is worth noting that there is strong support for the roadless rule, its protections and the legislation from such sitting governors as Gregoire (WA), Richardson (NM), Sanford (SC), Schwarzenegger (CA), Kaine (VA), Baldacci (ME), Granholm (MI), Corzine (NJ), Strickland (OH), Bredesen (TN) and Kulongoski (OR).

    And one more thing to point out again, President Obama, as a U.S. Senator and a presidential candidate as well as his vice president (Biden) and many other members of his cabinet supported the roadless rule – including Hilary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, Gary Locke, Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis and Tom Vilsack.

    Protecting our beautiful and now dwindling public lands should not be a matter of politics, but rather a matter of substance & just the right thing to do. After so many years, it is quite obvious this is a popular and well balanced economic & scientific policy that should stand as law. Unfortunately, politics and special interests have taken a hold of this matter; those in the oil, gas, and coal industries and their “allies” in the halls of Congress have had the upper hand when it comes to NOT conserving our precious natural lands. It is time for Congress to step up and also the President to hold firm on his position on protecting these roadless areas in our national forest system. The roadless rule is and should continue to be the law of the land. We all want these special lands around to hunt, fish, recreate and enjoy with our families now and into the future. Thank you.

  2. Sorry, John. You’re correct. Adam Smith is on the list. I missed him when I went through it. I’ve corrected the article accordingly……Bill

  3. Thanks Bill – always enjoy your columns. One more thing, if you include Rep. Inslee and Sen. Cantwell, you have 155 Reps and 25 Senators cosponsoring the legislation. Me, I am stickler for details.

  4. Thanks for tuning it, John, but I got you on the math–155 plus 25 make 180, which is the number used in the column. But is it enough?….Bill

  5. Now is the time!

    Tester is a deplorable campaigner who lied about his support of roadless lands. Dont support his bs bill.

  6. Bill, Good article and good recap of the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act.

    You know, at one point in the not too distant past, all of Montana’s conservation groups were united around the effort to protect the remaining 6.4 million acres of roadless wildlands here in Montana. You see, protecting all of our remaining backcountry roadless areas in Montana was not only popular with the public (who owns these public lands), but it was the right thing to do ecologically and economically.

    That’s why of the 17,429 Montanans who commented on the 2001 roadless rule, 78% were in favor of backcountry protection.

    That why, when the Bush Administration tried to undo Clinton’s Roadless Rule with a state-by-state process, over 350 Montana Main Street businesses — including taxidermists, fly shops, outfitters, logging contractors, and outdoor gear retailers – urged Gov. Schweitzer to help keep Montana’s national forest backcountry the way it is —natural and free of new roads. That’s why a Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance survey of hunters and anglers found that 83% of hunters and 86% of anglers support keeping the backcountry free of new roads. That’s why over a hundred of Montana’s top scientists from around the state urged Gov. Brian Schweitzer to recommend that Montana’s roadless areas remain so to conserve the state’s clean water and wildlife.

    But you know what? Something happened in late 2005 and early 2006.

    As most of Montana’s conservation groups were still working together to protect all our remaining roadless lands, unknown to any of us, a self-selected, exclusive subset of conservation groups (Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center and Montana Trout Unlimited) began meeting in secret with the timber industry to craft a management plan for the entire Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. Their proposal, which today forms the meat of Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” originally released nearly 200,000 acres of inventoried roadless lands on the BHDL National Forest to commercial logging.

    Conservation groups in Montana, and around the country, who were not part of the MWA’s, NWF’s and MT TU’s secret meetings felt betrayed, sucker punched and used. Can you imagine? At a time when we were all working together so well to protect all of Montana’s remaining inventoried roadless lands (and when that goal was certainly in sight) three groups peeled off and met in secret with the timber industry to carve up roadless lands, mandate logging and violate NEPA? The outrage was pretty universal. In fact, most people don’t realize that Montana Wilderness Association was immediately forced to return nearly $80,000 that it was given as fiscal sponsor to assist our Montana Roadless Working Group’s education efforts the public during Bush’s state-by-state roadless petition process.

    Unfortunately, MWA, NWF and MT TU ignored all of the concerns over the past 3 years from the vast majority of conservation organizations in the movement and have just pushed ahead with Senator Tester and his staffers (some of whom have a direct conflict of interest based on their past relationships with these groups and their leadership) with their no-holds-barred, leave-no-talking-point-behind PR campaign supporting Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.”

    So, if you are like the majority of people in Montana, and around the country, who believe that our roadless wildlands should be protected. And if you are wondering why Montana Senator’s Tester and Baucus are not on the co-sponsor list for the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act, the answer to your question is pretty simple: The leadership of the Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center and Montana Trout Unlimited.

    This being the case, I will issue a public challenge to the leadership of these three organization’s (MWA’s Tim Baker and John Gatchell, NWF’s Tom France and MT TU’s Bruce Farling) since it’s quite clear that these folks read Wild Bill’s columns. Since you obviously have Senator Tester’s ear, and since the majority of Montana’s want our roadless backcountry protected, and since your organization’s still claim to support the protection of these roadless lands, I call on you to do two things.

    First, issue a public statement in support of the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act. And second, call on Montana’s two senators to immediately become co-sponsors of the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act.

    Assuming that these groups will refuse to do this, let history show that when Americans and Montanans had a golden opportunity in 2009 to protect our remaining roadless wildlands that the Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center and Montana Trout Unlimited were AWOL – instead opting to use their political connections to obstructed roadless protection and meeting in secret with the timber industry to get Congress to mandate more logging in our forests.

  7. Touche Bill. Overall, you are dead right regarding this issue & seems the overwhelming majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle agree with you! — “Roadless Rule Bill: the Timing is Right, so Just Pass It. Keep up the good journalism.

  8. “Tester is a deplorable campaigner who lied about his support of roadless lands. Dont support his bs bill.”

    Tester also chewed his nails and picked his nose while on live television during President Obama’s town hall meeting in Bozeman, MT.

    I can’t wait until Tester is out of office. He makes the whole state look bad.

  9. That is interesting information Matthew Koehler, thank you.

  10. Thanks Matthew Kohler what a great summary of the events leading up to this point.

    LOL Lovestheoutdoors


    Bill, that title is THE funniest, most politically tone deaf thing I’ve ever read.

    But, whatever Bill, great, let’s pass it. I’m for it.

  12. thanks for the killer recap of the sell-out by those wily non-profits, Mr. Koehler.

    far as i can tell Montana Trout (kinda-)Limited and Montana (no-longer-standing-for-the-) Wilderness Association should be wholly de-funded, at least until they choose less hypocritical names. Until then, they’re giving true wilderness and habitat advocates a black eye as they put the “con” in conservation.

    besides, with even max refusing to jump aboard tester’s bill, and every reasoning montanan-from dillon ranchers to missoula stoners to nearly every Beaverhead-Deerlodge lackey in the state-seeing right through this guise of collaboration, how do these suckers expect this waste of paper to get through the legislature?


    instead of wasting member’s dough on half-assed, dead-end “solutions,” i second koehler’s challenge to these “collaborative” (sic) groups to support NREPA, the only legislation worthy of support from groups exploiting the great names of “trout,” “wilderness,” and “wildlife.”

  13. Less ATV owners drive irresponsibly than democratic congressmen drive drunk.

  14. Thanks Bill for the mention on protocol and loopholes. There is no constitutional basis for either, however, like the arbitrary 60-vote filibuster senate rule, Americans are robbed of a democratic process and just government policies. I would prefer it if Inslee just designated all roadless areas wilderness, and don’t think the politics would change the challenge his bill faces. There is always the risk of overestimating the protection in a bill that purports “protection” of roadless areas, when we know it is a half-measure at best. It’s always better to ask for what you want, not what you think our corrupt Congress will settle for. Make mine wilderness, please.

  15. just a theory but it seems like the more wild land america loses, the less courage it has. if we want to keep this the land of the free and the home of the brave, eventually we will find the courage to pass the wild rockies wilderness act for the sake of future generations.

    meanwhile, we cannot afford to lose more wild land or more bravery. don’t give in to the fearmongers; pass this.

  16. If it’s such a good idea and 90% of the American public really want it, then don’t send it through congress or the senate. Put it on a ballot. Especially for those people living in the affected areas. Don’t let knuckleheads from California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada decide which of our Idaho roads get closed. You wouldn’t like us making laws for you.

    Oh, and for the record……….more “protected” old-growth forests were lost in Idaho during the 2007 forest fire than all the logging efforts in our history.

    70-90% of the Payette National forest old-growth was killed after logging and roadbuilding stopped. This included many trees in excess of 800 years old. You can see for yourself if you think I’m making this up. Zoom in with google earth to the areas around Yellow Pine, McCall and Stanley.

    As to spotted owl, grey wolves, salmon, grizzlies and other cuddly protected species, hundreds of thousands of them died in that one fire. But you guys writing this kind of bull-malarky about “protecting” our nation’s forests have never lived in them, never watched a half burned to death bear die because he couldn’t outrun a 45 mph 4000 degree inferno.

    You feel good people who sit in your condos in the big city and tell honest people living in the land, on the land and of the land ought to be very ashamed of yourselves when you make policy from your armchairs and couches. Visiting the forests every third weekend doesn’t give you the right to think you know how a forest works.

    I’ve lived in the forest all my life. The only part that’s left where I grew up, is the part they used to manage and occasionally log. The rest is ashes and clogged rivers.

  17. Scott: Sounds like you are more angry about wildfires, than protecting wilderness, which is what this article is about…

  18. Scott is right. In order to “save” the forests, we need to create checkerboard patterns of one square mile each of middle growth, and then clearcuts. Each sqare mile parcel should have at least one road going to it so we can get fire trucks up in there. This should be a staggered pattern. Roadless areas only serve to create giant fires. Never mind that 98% of the lower 48 is roaded, and that’s where most fires occur. We need to focus on the 2% of roadless areas, this is the major problem an we are losing focus. There’s no need for roadless areas. We can get plenty of deer and rabbit without roadless areas. Plenty of grouse too. These are the keystone spcies of the Rocky Mountains.

    Those who DO NOT live in or near a forest could never possibly understand how it works. Let me explain to you CITY YUPPIES how this works. Listen real good (hold up, let me turn down my nu-country…..)…ok. First, trees need water! They just don’t grow by themselves because you command them to. Also, they need sunshine and oxygen. Bet you didn’t know that!

    To truly understand the forest, you need to go offroading in it and watch the mud sling past your window. Not only do you need to go offroading, you need to tow a trailer that holds four ATV’s with extended gas tanks while offroading. That way you can learn how to handle a trailer in the big forest. And make sure the vehicle you offroad in costs more than your house! This is important. A wise man who understands forests spends $30,000 on a Chevy extracab 4×4 truck and $15,000 on his house. The man who understands forests spends more time looking for ice for the camp cooler than looking at an ecology book for five minutes.

    I lived here ma whole life. I spent many months staring at that foest while watching TV. I drove in it, I saw bigfoot. I saw bears with bumper stickers that said “save a tree, cut a lib”. I seen it all. Until you spend day and night in your yard with the old, tire-less cars and junk piles, only then wil you really know about the grat forests of the rocky mountains.

    And don’t even get me started on our guns and the U.N. one goverment conspiracy that is knocking at the door of doom.

  19. Wow the sarcasm is to die for… but it sure doesn’t help much. And to tell people they don’t know anything really polarizes things which ain’t good for you either. I don’t live in the big city, I live here in western Montana. Research has shown that clear cuts, and logged areas have a quicker fire than old growth, or forests that have not been logged.

  20. hey scotty amos

    i live and work in the idaho forests. I probally spend more time and get deeper into the idaho wilderness areas than you

    and guess what I support roadless you prejudice know it all hick

  21. “i live and work in the idaho forests. I probally spend more time and get deeper into the idaho wilderness areas than you”

    Thats really impressive, are you blogging from deep in the Payette right now Beargrass?

  22. would it be impossible to keep this blog civil and mature? Lets just try to keep it mature at least.

  23. “Rock Creek and the Sapphire Mountains. Photo by George Weurthner.” Not this year.

  24. Mike and Scott Amos are using forestry statistics of the past. Yes, this is what they used to teach in schools (about patchwork clearcuts, logging, etc.). No, it isn’t supported by the most recent science. Forest Service roads are not “Idaho Roads.” They are federally owned and managed. Besides, it doesn’t matter where you are from if your facts are flawed.

  25. It is time to hold Tester accountable for the platform of conservation in which he campaigned. However, I think we have a better shot of persuading Tester to sign on to this bill than we would if old Conrad was still influencing policy. The citizens of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado need to get on their respective representatives and get more exposure on this bill.

  26. I grew up in Yellow Pine Idaho, the gateway to the Frank Church River of no Return Wilderness. I enjoy hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowshoeing. I also enjoy having a nice job.

    The original bill has already put tens of thousands of westerners out of work. That’s why so few are on board. Back in the good ol’ 1990s, prior to Clinton closing the northwest to mining and logging, the USFS in those regions actually took in about $85million profit annually. That money went to lower taxes, maintain campgrounds, hiking trails and for restoring wildlife habitat. Without that loss of revenue, more and more “fees” are being passed on to the general public.

    The act of selective logging left a cleaner, healthier forest behind where I grew up. You won’t find any evidence of clear-cutting and for a long time it was hard to find patches of forest which weren’t unhealthy from being overgrown. Now without logging, 70-90% of the Payette national forest was destroyed by wildfire in 2007. 70-90% of old growth, spotted owl habitat, wolf, deer, elk, fish habitat was consumed by a fire that raged up to 40 m.p.h. That’s more destruction done by one wildfire than the last 150 years of mining and logging combined.

    The wonderful mountain playland I grew up in is now mostly charred stumps and clogged rivers. What’s really sad: The tiny amount of logging that still happens in the area cuts down green trees right next to burnt ones, because environmental groups have sued to stop the process of burnt tree removal.

    Look up google satellite maps of the Payette National forest. The attrocity can be seen from space quite well. Why can’t well-intentioned people standing on the ground see it?

    Question to all the supporters of the bill: Where did the lumber for your house come from? The gold wiring in your car, computer? Why do you support bringing these raw goods in from Canada, Mexico, Russia, and third world dictator countries like Venezuela? When it means tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work?