As Trump Administration Undermines Public Lands, Cantwell, Murray Introduce Legislation to Codify Protections for Millions of Acres of National Forests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced legislation to permanently protect the nation’s most pristine federal forests from harmful and reckless development. These federal lands support billions of dollars each year in revenues from outdoor recreation, provide opportunities for hunting and fishing, protect critical habitat for 1,600 threatened or endangered species, and supply clean drinking water to millions of Americans in more than 350 communities throughout Washington and across the United States.

“I fear the Administration is seeking to overturn the almost 20-year-old Roadless Rule to allow for development in the nation’s few remaining pristine open spaces, which include key recreational areas, vital watersheds that supply clean drinking water, and irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat,” said Senator Cantwell. “The Administration continues to try to solve 21st century problems with 19th century thinking, trying to extract a relatively small amount from our few remaining pristine natural areas.”

“As President Trump and Republican leaders work overtime to push a special-interest driven agenda that prioritizes corporate profits at the expense of our environment and Washington state families, it is more important than ever for Congress to take action to defend our natural resources, including wilderness areas that are such an important part of our state’s culture, heritage, and economy,” said Senator Murray. “Washingtonians have made clear our support for strong roadless protections, and I’m proud to stand with Senator Cantwell to build support for this important measure that will help ensure the water, air, wildlife, and other natural resources in our forests are healthy and vibrant for future generations.”

The Roadless Rule safeguards certain federal forestlands from logging, road-building, mining, and drilling for oil and gas, instead preserving their use for recreation and ecological protection. These rules were the result of a massive, three-year effort from the U.S. Forest Service, which included more than 600 public meetings in communities around the country. During this time period, the Forest Service received more than 4.2 million comments on the regulations, the most extensive public involvement ever in the federal rulemaking process. Those comments overwhelmingly favored strong protections for roadless areas, and those protections continue to enjoy widespread support among the American people.

Roadless areas are part of the identity of Washington state and the Pacific Northwest. National forests cover 9.2 million acres in Washington, about one-fifth of the state’s total area, and there are two million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the state, including popular sites like Kettle River Range, Dark Divide, and Lena Lake. These areas are an economic engine that contribute billions of dollars to the state economy and immeasurably enhance the quality of life of all those who call Washington home.

This common-sense and widely-popular conservation safeguard, however, is now facing unprecedented threats from special interests who want to open up environmentally-sensitive national forestlands to commercial exploitation. The relentless campaign by the Trump Administration to roll back public lands protections underestimates the tremendous value these lands have for communities and economies throughout the country – oftentimes intentionally.

Conservation groups and other stakeholders weighed in on the introduction of the legislation, the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018.

“The Wilderness Society applauds Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) for introducing legislation that would make the nation’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule a permanent law,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “As one of the U.S. Forest Service’s greatest achievements, the Roadless Rule safeguards 58.5 million acres of treasured national forest lands across 39 states, provides clean drinking water for millions of U.S. residents, conserves some of America’s best recreation areas and fish and wildlife habitat, and has saved taxpayers untold millions of dollars in unnecessary road construction and maintenance. Despite such benefits and overwhelming public support of the Roadless Rule, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress are determined to weaken the rule at all costs, including opening millions of acres of old growth forests in Alaska’s Tongass National Forests to roadbuilding and logging. We can’t let that happen, and Senator Cantwell’s bill takes a stand against attacks on this critically important measure to safeguard pristine areas of our national forests.”

“The roadless rule keeps America’s national forests truly wild, providing critical habitat for a diverse array of wildlife — including more than 2,100 threatened, endangered, or sensitive animal and plant species. This important proposal ensures our nation’s roadless areas remain refuges for wildlife and open for recreation,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s Associate Vice President for Public Lands. “Congress should swiftly take up this long-overdue, collaborative proposal to support wildlife and forest conservation.”

The Roadless Conservation Act of 2018 would:

  • Protect, in perpetuity, 58.5 million acres of roadless national forest in 39 states.
  • Ensure that the more than 240 million people living within 100 miles of a national forest or national grassland retain access to opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing.
  • Safeguard watersheds in national forests and roadless areas that provide clean drinking water for over 60 million Americans.
  • Save taxpayers millions of dollars by limiting costly new road building, allow the Forest Service to focus on maintaining its existing 371,581-mile network of national forest system roads, and reduce its $3 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on its existing road system.
  • Maintain exemptions for hydropower development, public safety, and firefighting needs.
  • Uphold the 9th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals decisions, as well as a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in support of the Roadless Rule.

In addition to Senators Cantwell and Murray, 15 of their colleagues have co-sponsored the legislation, including U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

Additional stakeholder quotes in support of the legislation can be found HERE.