Only a fraction of the nation’s public, forested wildlands—four percent of the United States— remain wild today. The Forest Service, the agency that manages national forests, manages two types of undeveloped wildlands within its jurisdiction. The first is Wilderness, which are areas designated by Congress under the Wilderness Act and protected by the statute’s substantive requirements. The second is roadless areas (approximately 2.4 percent of U.S. land base), which are vulnerable to development from activities such as logging or road-building. Roadless characteristics are the exact same qualities that define Wilderness. Threats to these qualities include logging and constructing roads, both of which can fragment roadless landscapes and immediately eliminate roadless characteristics for generations. Outside of Alaska with its massive Tongass and Chugach National Forests, Idaho has the second largest and Montana the third largest roadless acreage. Idaho national forests have about nine million acres of roadless areas, 16 percent of the nation’s roadless base. Montana national forests have about six million acres, 11 percent of the nation’s roadless base.
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (“National Roadless Rule”) and the Idaho Roadless Rule govern the states with the three largest roadless bases. The Forest Service, under the Clinton Administration, created the National Roadless Rule in response to strong public sentiment for protecting these areas and the clean water, the biological diversity, the forest health, and the recreational opportunities that roadless areas provide. The Bush Administration created a state-petitions process for each state to develop its own roadless rule, and before the Ninth Circuit set aside the process for violating several laws, the Forest Service published the Idaho Roadless Rule. Even after finding the state-petitions process unlawful, the Ninth Circuit later upheld the Idaho Roadless Rule.
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