More than one hundred years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt established our national forest system as a legacy for future generations. A century later these national forests still stand because Americans enthusiastically have embraced their protection and pushed back when special interests threatened them.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of one of the hardest fought land protection efforts in our nation’s history – the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule protected over 58 million acres of national forest from destructive energy development, logging, and road building. The vast majority of these areas remain roadless and have become havens for animals and people alike, providing much needed space for wildlife to live and raise their young, and a taste of the wild for families across the country.
They have also become economic drivers, providing recreational opportunities that contribute $14.5 billion to the U.S. economy and employ 223,000 people, according to a recent Forest Service study. Whether hiking, biking, swimming or picnicking, people from all walks of life have sought solace and adventure in America’s last undeveloped areas.
As wildlife struggle to survive in the face of a changing climate, our roadless areas become even more important. Our public lands can provide critical safe space for wildlife, away from outside stresses like oil drilling and logging which could push them over the brink. Forests also play a key role in keeping and pulling climate pollution out of the air.
These roadless areas would not be protected today without the help of people like you. The protections in place today are the result of one of the biggest and broadest public pushes in our nation’s history to save these pristine areas for future generations.
But the battle is not over. There are still roadless areas not protected under the rule, including all of Idaho, Colorado and Alaska’s Tongass National Forest; conflicting court decisions have created uncertainty over the protections already in place; and energy developers and loggers are still looking for ways to use our national treasures to line their pockets.
Even as we celebrate a decade of protecting and enjoying our last wild places, we continue work to preserve the vision of Theodore Roosevelt and manage our forests as a legacy to future generations.
–Matt Kirby, Sierra Club Lands Protection / Resilient Habitats Team