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 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule govern the states with the three largest roadless bases. We set out to determine how effective these two roadless rules have been for protecting wild areas in practice. We found that since around 2010 the Forest Service in Montana has logged between 32,000 and 40,000 acres of roadless acreage in national forests of Montana and between 10,000 and 19,000 acres in national forests in Idaho, even though the Idaho Roadless Rule generally contains less restrictions for logging roadless areas.
Both RACR and the Idaho Roadless Rule have facilitated a gradual erosion of the roadless system. Neither rule effectively protects roadless areas from logging, but rather provides exceptions for logging and roadbuilding to various degrees, which the Forest Service is exploiting. The Forest Service’s environmental analyses have shifted to justify utilizing the exceptions in an unchecked manner, and because the Forest Service does not update roadless boundaries, wildlands overlooked from the initial inventories remain unprotected while there is a growing number of “inventoried roadless areas” that no longer have roadless and wilderness characteristics. Given these rules are not as protective as assumed, we need a substantive review of both rules and an accounting of the remaining roadless areas in the United States. Additionally, the public and its government must engage in a thoughtful discourse about whether protecting roadless areas is a priority and, if so, how to effectively do that.
Read the full executive summary below.
Read the entire report below.
***The findings from this report were based on self-reported numbers from the Forest Service and cross-checked with the National Environmental Policy Act analysis for each logging project mentioned. These spreadsheets are posted below. The columns in white where the original information by the Forest Service. The columns in color were added by Friends of the Clearwater as it cross-checked the Forest Service’s numbers.
Below is the most recent spreadsheet, from October 2022, that we’ve received from the Forest Service. According to the Forest Service’s own records, it has authorized over 177,000 acres of tree cutting authorized in inventoried roadless areas in national forests within Idaho since 2008. These authorizations happened under logging exceptions permitted by the 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule and the National Environmental Policy Act. They are the Forest Services own records.
Read the 2019 news release below.
Roadless areas are a defining feature of the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests. Protecting roadless characteristics ensures that one day, these areas may also become Wilderness! Every dollar donated helps us protect 29 rare roadless areas ranging from 7,000 to 260,000 acres in size. Funds will be used for research and strategies to protect what the Idaho Roadless Rule and the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation rule cannot.