The landmark Roadless Area Conservation Rule protects 58.5 million acres of America’s national forests including 4.4 million in Colorado from new road-building associated with commercial logging and oil, gas and other industrial development. Issued by the Clinton administration in January 2001, it is a balanced environmental measure that does not close any existing roads or recreational trails, restrict access for private property owners, or interfere with existing leases or permits for mineral development or oil and gas operations. It also allows for new roads to be built to respond to fires and other natural disasters.
America’s roadless policy has enjoyed widespread popularity since it was adopted, though timber and other extractive industries have made repeated attempts to undo it through a series of lawsuits and appeals intended to open up undeveloped areas. They succeeded in May 2005, when the Bush administration repealed the 2001 rule and replaced it with a complicated state-by-state process that required governors to petition the federal government if they wanted undeveloped national forests in their states to receive protection. But in September 2006, a federal court reinstated the original policy and it again became the law of the land. Despite the setback, the administration encouraged governors to file petitions under the Administrative Procedures Act. Of the 38 states in the nation that have national forest roadless areas, only Idaho and Colorado have participated in this process.