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January 12, 2009

Pew, Conservationists Call on President-elect Obama to Implement Roadless Rule

Rep. Grijalva, former Forest Chief Dombeck join in urging suspension of road-building in undeveloped forests


Contact: Elyssa Rosen, Pew Environment Group, 775-224-7497

Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Executive Director, 520-326-4300

East Clear Creek roadless area.
Photo by Zach Crumbo.


WASHINGTON—Public officials and conservation leaders today called on President-elect Barack Obama to take swift action to implement the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The landmark measure, which was issued eight years ago today, protects more than 58 million acres of undeveloped forestland in 38 states, including 1.1 million acres of intact forest lands in Arizona.

            “Arizona has a long history in the fight to protect roadless areas, beginning with conservation visionary Aldo Leopold, who launched his career as a forester in the Blue Range of eastern Arizona 100 years ago this year,” says Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Today our champion is Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 7), who carries much of Leopold’s legacy by recognizing the significance of roadless wild lands for healthy wildlife habitat and opportunities for quiet recreation.” 

            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. The Coconino National Forest alone, for example, is marred by nearly 6,000 miles of roads—enough to go from San Francisco to New York City and back.

            “Congressman Grijalva is shouldering a tremendous responsibility in Congress—working to guarantee that beautiful and biologically rich areas in Arizona and around the country retain their outstanding wild character,” says Gaither-Banchoff. “Our roadless lands are the legacy of many great conservation advocates, including Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt. We hope the Obama Administration will help continue their important ecological legacy for future generations.”

            Data from road studies done by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish shows that high road densities in national forests cause direct loss of habitat and reduction of available habitat for deer, elk, and other species; direct mortality of animals; increased noise and visual disturbance for deer, elk, and other species; and increased illegal killing of game species. In 2006, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish released the results of a statewide survey of active hunters that indicated that disruption caused by off-road vehicles (ORVs) traveling on national forests was among the top four “barriers to participating in hunting” in Arizona. In fact 54% of the respondents indicated that disruption caused by ORV use was a significant barrier to their participation in hunting (Arizona Department of Game and Fish, Wildlife News, January 2006).

            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 in Arizona exceed $548 million, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, one of the many groups that have partnered with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition to raise public awareness about the value of roadless lands in the past.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, the Pew Environment Group, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups also asked the incoming Obama administration to suspend road-building, drilling and other industrial activity in national forests that would violate the rule until it can be fully implemented.  
“A century ago, our national forest system was created by President Theodore Roosevelt as a legacy for future generations,” said Rep. Grijalva.  “I know my colleagues in Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are looking forward to working with our new president to make sure that these forests remained protected through the roadless rule.”
Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief during the Clinton administration and the rule’s principal architect, said the measure was the product of years of scientific analysis and a record amount of public input. “This is a sound and well-thought out policy,” said Dombeck. “Its implementation is critical to ensuring safe drinking water for millions of Americans and protecting some of the nation’s most valuable fish and wildlife habitat.”
The Bush administration attempted to undo the rule and replace it with one that would allow national forest protections to be determined on a state-by-state basis. The move was challenged by environmentalists and is currently the subject of litigation in two federal appellate courts.  While in the U.S. Senate, President-elect Obama co-sponsored legislation that would codify the rule, and his presidential campaign endorsed the policy as part of its conservation platform.  
“This is one of the most important land protection measures of the decade,” said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands program director for the Pew Environment Group. “Implementing the roadless rule should be a priority on day one for the new administration.”  The Pew Environment Group today launched a national campaign with other conservation organizations to urge the incoming administration to move quickly to embrace the policy as the law of the land.
Some conservationists are also concerned about potential last minute actions by the outgoing administration that could result in new oil and gas leasing and other industrial activity on previously undeveloped land.
“The Bush administration has created the potential for a surge in drilling and road-building on western public lands, including national forests,” said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, which has been involved in multiple legal efforts to prevent such activity in roadless areas.  “It’s especially important that the new administration calls for an immediate ‘time out’ on further activity until the 2001 roadless rule can be fully implemented.”
For more information on the roadless rule and the 2009 campaign to restore it, go to
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The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United States that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improving public policy, informing the public and stimulating civic life.


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