Time-Out for Roadless Areas
The Obama administration just took a huge leap toward protecting our country's vast roadless areas. Last Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed a directive that essentially gave a time-out to millions of acres of our forests. The directive requires any project that involves road building or timber harvesting on a majority of the area covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule to have the personal approval of the Secretary.
This interim directive provides the administration with all of the tools it needs to protect most of our country's most wild and cherished roadless areas in the short term. Unfortunately, this directive does not apply to Idaho, which had previously developed its own, weaker plan under a state petition process established by the Bush administration. However, it does include the Tongass National Forest. That forest, covering 17 million acres of southeast Alaska, is by far the largest national forest in the country and has a complicated history regarding the Roadless Rule. Despite being the wildest national forest and serving as a poster child for why roadless areas should be protected, the Tongass was exempted from the rule by the Bush administration in 2003. The Obama administration's decision to include the Tongass in this directive is a good first step towards reinstating the original 2001 Roadless Rule. Hopefully it won't be too long before the critical next steps are taken as well.