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Conservationists, Governor Share Common Goal of Full Protection of Washington’s Roadless Areas

This is a first step toward achieving comprehensive protection for 2,000,000 acres of roadless forests statewide

Olympia, WA – A broad coalition of statewide conservation, recreation, sportsmen and religious groups applauded Governor Gregoire’s decision today to file a petition under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) to amend regulations finalized in May by the Forest Service which effectively repealed protections for nearly 60 million acres of roadless forests.

The APA petition specifically asks the Bush Administration to amend its roadless regulations to allow Governors to retain protections for Roadless forests in their states as provided in the 2001 National Forest Roadless Area Rule without the added cost and effort currently required by the more recent Bush regulations adopted in 2005. An APA petition can be filed by any "interested person" to request promulgation of regulations by an agency of the federal government. The agency is required to respond promptly to any petition but is not required to address it substantively. . "The Governor’s action today shows her strong commitment to restoring protections for more than two million acres of roadless forests in Washington State as provided under the 2001 Roadless Rule," said Tom Uniack, Conservation Director of Washington Wilderness Coalition. "We see the APA petition as an important first step that the Governor can take to restore full protection for our roadless forests."

Some organizations have highlighted other actions that the Governor could take to restore full protection for Washington’s roadless forests including joining or initiating separate litigation against the 2005 roadless regulations, supporting Congressional Legislation to codify the 2001 roadless rule, or petitioning for comprehensive roadless protections as provided for under the 2005 roadless regulations.

Last month, the Governor of Oregon and the Attorneys General from California and New Mexico, as well as a group of conservation organizations filed two separate lawsuits challenging the 2005 roadless regulations. Both suits call for restoring protections under the previous Roadless Rule, which was finalized in January 2001 after years of scientific study, 600 local public hearings and meetings, and the largest public rulemaking in the history of the federal government. The balanced policy protected 58.5 million acres of national forests across the country from road building and road-dependent development, while allowing road construction in order to ensure public safety and logging to restore forest health.

"Our roadless areas are national treasures," said Michelle Ackermann, Northwest Regional Director for The Wilderness Society, which is the lead plaintiff in conservationists’ lawsuit seeking to reinstate the 2001 Rule. "With more than 140,000 public comments, Washington citizens have already voiced strong support for national protection for these wild places – more public support than for any other federal protection effort. It is critical that these last wild places receive the national protection they deserve."

In July, Representatives Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) along with 144 House co-sponsors reintroduced bipartisan legislation, entitled the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2005, that would codify protections for inventoried roadless areas consistent with the 2001 rule.

"We applaud the Governor’s leadership in insisting we have equal and full protection across the remaining national wild forests," said Shannon Harps, Associate Regional Representative of the Sierra Club. "This action along with Representative Inslee’s roadless legislation is a direct response to efforts by the Bush Administration to ignore the overwhelming public support for the roadless rule which was adopted in 2001."

Under the new regulations, state governors must petition the Forest Service with recommendations in order for roadless areas to be considered for protection. These petitions are non-binding, and the Forest Service is free to accept, reject or modify them. If a governor chooses not to submit a petition, the management of roadless areas would default to the management direction of local forest plans, which allow road-building and logging on much of the 58.5 million acres of roadless areas across the country.

"Here in Washington our political leadership at every level understands the importance of protecting these special places," said John McGlenn, President of Washington Wildlife Federation. "Roadless forests are critical to preserving wildlife habitat for endangered species, safe and clean drinking water for millions of Americans, recreational opportunities for the public, and the unique quality of life and natural heritage that we all enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest."

Some of Washington’s natural treasures that were protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule include the Dark Divide in the shadow of Mt. Adams in southwest Washington, the Kettle Range in the northeast corner of the state and the South Quinault Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula

The values of protecting roadless forests include:

•        Sixty million Americans rely on clean drinking water from the national forests. Roadless areas provide the purest source of that water due to their pristine and road-free condition. In the Northwest Forest Service Region, which includes Washington and Oregon, drinking water on national forest land is worth approximately $941 million annually, which is more than any other region or state in the country except California.

•        Outdoor recreation has become more and more popular over time as Americans participate in everything from hike and camping to hunting and fishing in roadless areas. Approximately 2.5 million Washington residents took part in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching in 2001, contributing $2.4 billion to the state economy.

•        A majority of the unspoiled habitat for hundreds of threatened, endangered, and declining species is found in roadless areas. In Washington, 25 at-risk species, including bald eagles, steelhead and bull trout and chinook salmon are found in national forests and could be harmed by the building of new roads and the ensuing destruction of roadless areas.  

•        Protecting roadless areas would be fiscally responsible, by saving taxpayers the cost of adding subsidized logging roads to the existing network of nearly 400,000 miles of national forest roads, which have an unfunded maintenance backlog of nearly $10 billion.

For more information, Contact Shannon Harps, Sierra Club, 206-378-0114 ex 306