Among the biggest environmental victories of 2006 was the reinstatement of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. More than five years of Sierra Club grassroots activism, lobbying, and legal action paid off when a federal judge in California ordered; the original Roadless Rule; put back into force this September. Enacted in 2001 by President Clinton, the Roadless Rule protects 58.5 million roadless acres in America's national forests from road-building, logging, and mining.
One of the Bush administration's first decisions on taking office was to block the rule, substituting a plan that encouraged logging and mining on public lands. The administration formally repealed the rule in 2005, replacing it with a policy of state-by-state management that forced governors to petition the federal government if they wanted protections for national forests within their borders.
Back when the Clinton administration first proposed the rule, the Sierra Club and its allies deluged the Forest Service with a record-breaking one million public comments in support of protecting wild forests. "The Roadless Rule is based on real science and was the result of the most extensive public comment process ever, spanning three years and 600 public meetings" says Club public lands specialist Sean Cosgrove.
But when Bush blocked the rule, the Club had to do it all over again, and since 2001, postcard campaigns and e-mail outreach have kept up a steady drumbeat. In Virginia, Club organizer Dave Muhly and others led "Tours de Cut," taking locals to still-intact national forest roadless areas as well as logged areas so they could experience the contrast for themselves. Oregon Chapter members organized when 12,000 acres of roadless-area logging was proposed in the wake of 2002's Biscuit fire, successfully lobbying the governor to take a stand for roadless area protection and battle the Bush administration in court. "We lost a couple of special places, but we won a huge victory overall and the vast majority of the roadless area logging proposals never moved forward," says chapter organizer Ivan Maluski.
Club members wrote op-eds, letters-to-the-editor, and contacted their governors, stressing that national forests should be protected by a national rule. "In the last year the public really got behind that idea," Muhly says. "State protection is great, but it's no substitute for national protection."
The Sierra Club and a coalition of states and environmental groups also sued the Forest Service to reinstate the Roadless Rule, objecting to the Bush administration's scrapping of the rule with no environmental analysis and little public input. District Judge Elizabeth LaPorte ruled for reinstatement, saying, "While regulation is not a popularity contest, the 1.8 million comments [on the Bush administration rule]...most of which were negative...reflect the heated public debate over the rule's impact." LaPorte's decision came as several states were preparing to allow road construction on these lands, paving the way for logging, mining, oil and gas development, and off-road vehicle use.
For more, see http://www.sierraclub.org/forests/roadless/.
Great Burn in Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. Photo by Besty Buffington.