Press Release: Ruling Reinstates Clinton-Era Protection for Roadless Forests in Arizona and Nationwide
Roadless supporters say 1.1 million acres of Arizona forests deserve 100% protection.
PHOENIX—Arizona conservation groups, including the Arizona Wilderness Coalition (AWC), celebrated the decision of a federal judge in California on September 20th that reinstates Clinton-era protections for 58.5 million acres of national forest lands nationwide. The decision will spare more than 1.1 million acres of intact forest lands in Arizona from becoming fragmented by new roads, illegal trails, and other development that destroys prime wildlife habitat, clouds fishing streams, and increases erosion on forest lands.
“This decision reiterates what we’ve known all along,” says Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, one of the many groups working to keep Arizona’s roadless lands intact. “What thousands of Arizonans want is for their children and grand children to be able to experience the wild lands that make Arizona special. This decision honors that wish.”
State governors had been forced under the Bush Administration to file a petition asking the U.S. Forest Service to protect roadless lands in each state, but the petitions could ultimately be rejected by the Department of Agriculture. Conservation groups have long argued that, while the Bush Adminstration’s plan for roadless areas seemed to give authority to states on how roadless lands should be protected, there was no guarantee that petition requests would be accepted.
Governor Janet Napolitano is in the middle of drafting her petition, with help from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who she called on to conduct twelve public meetings to gather comments on roadless area management around the state. The Bush Administration can still enact state petitions as a separate rule-making process for roadless lands, even though the 2001 Roadless Rule protections are now back in place nationwide.
U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth LaPorte’s ruling found that in repealing the 2001 roadless rule, the Bush Administration failed to comply with basic legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. The 2005 Bush Administration roadless repeal, adopted with no environmental analysis and limited public input, replaced a Clinton era rule adopted in January 2001 after a three-year process that included 600 public hearings and 1.6 million public comments.
National Forest System (NFS) lands in Arizona contain more than 28,720 miles of roads, 6.53% of all NFS roads in the country, and more than enough miles of roads to reach around the circumference of the Earth. Roadless lands on national forests draw millions of hunters, campers, fishermen, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts every year, fueling Arizona’s multi-million dollar tourism industry. Total annual expenditures for hunting and fishing alone in Arizona exceed $548 million, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, one of the many groups that have partnered with AWC to raise public awareness about the value of roadless lands.
“To date, every state that has petitioned under the Bush rule has requested 100% protection of their roadless areas, consistent with the 2001 Rule,” says Gaither-Banchoff. “Arizona’s wild lands deserve no less.”
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition works to permanently protect and restore Wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona for the enjoyment of all citizens and to ensure that Arizona's native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature. Since 1979, we have done this by coordinating and conducting inventories, educating citizens about these lands, enlisting community support, and advocating for their lasting protection. Our offices are based in Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, and Flagstaff.