Heritage Forests

One-third of the National Forest System remains without roads. These roadless areas represent 45 of the 83 “eco-regions” found in the continental United States and Alaska and range from the lush temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the extraordinarily species-diverse southern Appalachian Mountains.

Roadless forests safeguard clean water from more than 2,000 watersheds—the source of drinking water for more than 60 million Americans—while preserving critical habitat for fish and wildlife and providing numerous opportunities for both recreation and scientific research.

In January 2001, an effort led by the Pew-supported heritage forests campaign secured protection of 58.6 million acres, or nearly one-third of the 192 million acres of national forest land, through the U.S. Forest Service’s Roadless Areas Conservation Rule. The landmark environmental policy has received record support, generating more than 2.5 million public comments in favor of preservation.

After promulgating a series of regulations that delayed the implementation of the roadless policy, the Bush administration officially repealed it in May 2005. The popular measure was replaced with a complicated regulatory process that required governors to formally petition for preservation of undeveloped national forestlands within their states. The heritage forests campaign garnered the support from a bipartisan group of governors across the country to endorse the full protection of roadless areas in their states. Shortly thereafter, a federal court struck down the administration’s new policy on procedural grounds and ordered reinstatement of the original rule for roadless areas in the lower 48 states.

With litigation still pending, the heritage forests campaign continues to generate enthusiastic public support for protecting America’s last wild national forests. These efforts continue because once the forests are gone, they are gone forever.

For more information, visit the heritageforests.org.

Photo byChuck Pezeshki.

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