Cantwell Introduces Bill to Codify Existing Protections for Millions of Acres of National Forests Currently Being Eyed by the Trump Administration

Legislation is Co-Sponsored by 16 Senate Democrats

August 1, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member Cantwell introduced legislation to permanently protect the Nation’s most pristine federal forests from reckless and inappropriate development. These lands support billions of dollars in revenues from outdoor recreation, provide exceptional habitat for hunting and fishing and critical habitat for 1,600 threatened or endangered species, and supply clean drinking water to millions of Americans living in over 350 communities across the United States.

“I fear the Administration is seeking to overturn the almost 20-year old Roadless Rule to allow for development in the nation’s few remaining pristine open spaces, which include key recreational areas, vital watersheds that supply clean drinking water, and irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat.  The Administration continues to try to solve 21stCentury problems with 19th Century thinking,” said Senator Cantwell, “trying to extract a relatively small amount from our few remaining pristine natural areas.”

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018 codifies the administrative protections given in 2001 to 58.5 million acres of pristine, roadless national forest land across 39 states. The current protections are flexible enough to still allow for new roads and logging to help with fighting wildfires and to ensure the public’s safety while protecting these pristine areas.  Sportsmen groups have repeatedly advocated for protecting these roadless areas because they provide anglers and hunters the biggest bulls, largest bucks, and best fishing on our public lands. 

The Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018 would:

  • Protect, in perpetuity, 58.5 million acres of roadless national forest in 39 states.
  • Ensure that the more than 240 million people living within 100 miles of a national forest or national grassland retain access to abundant opportunities for spectacular outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing.
  • Safeguard watersheds in national forests, and roadless areas that provide clean drinking water for over 60 million Americans.
  • Save taxpayers millions of dollars by limiting costly new road building, allow the Forest Service to focus on maintaining its existing 371,581-mile network of national forest system roads, and reduce its $3-billion backlog of deferred maintenance on its existing road system.
  • Maintain exemptions for hydropower development, public safety, and firefighting needs.
  • Uphold the 9th and 10th circuit Courts of Appeals decisions and a decision by a district court in the District of Columbia, in support of the Roadless Rule.

Senator Cantwell is the primary Senate champion of efforts to preserve America’s 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless forests and has made the protection of these last remaining pristine lands a priority since her first week in office. The almost 20-year old Roadless Rule safeguards certain roadless federal forestlands from logging, road-building, mining, and drilling for oil and gas—instead, preserving their use for recreation.

These regulations were the result of a massive three-year effort by the Forest Service, which included more than 600 public meetings in local communities nationwide.   The Forest Service received over 4.2 million comments when creating these regulations--the most extensive public involvement to have ever occurred for a Federal rulemaking. Those comments overwhelmingly favored strong protection for roadless areas, and recent polls show that there is strong, widespread support for the rule among the American people.

This commonsense and widely popular conservation safeguard is now facing unprecedented threats from special interests who want to open up environmentally sensitive national forestlands to commercial exploitation. The Administration is waging an unprecedented campaign to roll back protections for public lands and open up every corner of America to resource extraction. This short-sighted, misguided policy underestimates the tremendous value these lands have for communities and economies across the Nation. 

Senator Cantwell, along with 16 other Senators that have signed onto this bill, do not want the Administration crafting alternative regulations that would open the nation’s few remaining roadless national forests to logging, mining, and drilling for oil and gas.  Efforts to change these existing regulations are simply a distraction to the work that the Forest Service should be prioritizing to address the major problems plaguing our National Forests.

Sixteen other Democratic senators joined in co-sponsoring Senator Cantwell’s bill, including Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sen. Smith (Minn.), Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Reed (D-R.I.), Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Udall (D-N.M), Sen. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.), and Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.).

Conservation groups applauded Senator Cantwell’s efforts to defend these priceless wilderness areas and voiced support for the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018:

“The Wilderness Society applauds Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) for introducing legislation that would make the nation’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule a permanent law,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society.  “As one of the U.S. Forest Service’s greatest achievements, the Roadless Rule safeguards 58.5 million acres of treasured national forest lands across 39 states, provides clean drinking water for millions of U.S. residents, conserves some of America’s best recreation areas and fish and wildlife habitat, and has saved taxpayers untold millions of dollars in unnecessary road construction and maintenance.  Despite such benefits and overwhelming public support of the Roadless Rule, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress are determined to weaken the rule at all costs, including opening millions of acres of old growth forests in Alaska’s Tongass national forests to roadbuilding and logging. We can’t let that happen, and Senator Cantwell’s bill takes a stand against attacks on this critically important measure to safeguard pristine areas of our national forests.”

"Senator Cantwell is taking action to permanently protect our country’s roadless forests and grasslands. Roadless forests are not just remote places on a map. They provide clean drinking water for more than 60 million Americans and nearby outdoor recreation opportunities for more than 240 million people. Our most sensitive wildlands deserve to be protected into the future,” said Kirin Kennedy, Associate Legislative Director of the Sierra Club. 

“The roadless rule keeps America’s national forests truly wild, providing critical habitat for a diverse array of wildlife — including more than 2,100 threatened, endangered, or sensitive animal and plant species. This important proposal ensures our nation’s roadless areas remain refuges for wildlife and open for recreation,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s Associate Vice President for Public Lands. “Congress should swiftly take up this long-overdue, collaborative proposal to support wildlife and forest conservation.”

“We applaud Senator Cantwell and all who have signed on as cosponsor to this simple, common sense bill to safeguard the most cherished areas of our national forests,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League. “The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska supports billion dollar fishing and tourism industries and is home to iconic American wildlife like bald eagles and brown bears. We must ensure that these economic, wildlife and wilderness values are protected.”

"As Southeast Alaskans, we are grateful to Senator Cantwell for her leadership in protecting some of our wildest public lands, the roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest. Senator Cantwell’s Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018 illuminates the critical role the federal Roadless Rule plays in protecting among the most unique and spectacular forested lands in North America from unnecessary development for logging,” said Meredith Trainor, Executive Director, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “At a time of unprecedented attacks on our public lands, the Roadless Area Conservation Act will help Southeast Alaskans continue to protect both our growing tourism and fishery-based economy, and the wild spaces we fight for and cherish."

“This legislation is about preserving the relatively few remaining national forest lands not already fragmented by roads and logging activity. Protecting these undeveloped wildlands from the devastating effects of logging and roads safeguards habitat for thousands of wildlife species,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “Thank you to Senator Maria Cantwell for her tireless work to protect our nation’s forests from unsustainable development, logging and other threats.”

"The Roadless Rule was wildly popular when it was adopted because Americans understand the value of protecting wild places," said Steve Blackledge, Senior Director of Environment America's conservation program. "The only thing that's changed since 2001 is that our national forests need this protection more than ever. Kudos to Senator Cantwell for introducing this important bill." 

“Long a champion of defending our wildest forest lands, Senator Cantwell and her colleagues deserve our thanks for standing strong and working to protect our forests from the assault of big-money interests all too happy to slash them. For nearly two decades, the Roadless Rule has survived withering attacks in the courts and administratively, and the threats have only escalated under the Trump Administration. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we enshrine the protections for these pristine forest lands in law,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation, Earthjustice. “Wild forests and the clean water, wildlife, and recreation opportunities they offer are national treasures. Let’s save them for future generations – not turn them over to wealthy corporations.”