Cantwell, Inslee Introduce Legislation to Support Outdoor Economy, Permanently Protect Last Remaining Wild Forestlands

National forest roadless areas provide irreplaceable societal and economic benefits worth billions of dollars annually

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA-01) jointly introduced legislation in the Senate and House to preserve Washington’s last remaining pristine forestlands — lands that contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy. The measures introduced today have 130 Congressional co-sponsors.

The Roadless Area Conservation Act would codify the 2001 Presidential rule that applies to nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest lands in 38 states. The widely popular Roadless Rule, which was the result of the largest public lands review process in U.S. history, has been under assault since its inception over a decade ago. After years of legal wrangling, on October 21st the conservative 10th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected all legal claims against the Roadless Rule. Yet ongoing legislative efforts in both the House and Senate would open up roadless areas to logging, mining, and drilling. Passage of the Roadless Area Conservation Act would permanently protect these last remaining untouched public lands and safeguard the many benefits they provide Americans today and in the future.

“The Roadless Rule protects hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. In Washington one-fifth of our national forests are roadless. These areas are a critical engine to our economy and quality of life and need to be a lasting part of the landscape,” said Senator Cantwell. “Our cities depend on roadless areas for drinking water, and our pristine forests support more than 100,000 outdoor industry jobs here in Washington. There is an urgent need to safeguard the remaining undeveloped forest lands as a home for wildlife, a haven for recreation, and a heritage for future generations.”

“Roadless areas protect the health of our communities, the diversity of our forests, and support Washington’s economy,” said Representative Inslee. “The outdoor industry in Washington state gains $11.7 billion annually, generating more than 115,00 jobs and accounting for 3.5 percent of the state’s economy. Further, preserving roadless areas ensures that the generations that come after us have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful wild lands Washington state has to offer.”

Washington State’s outdoor recreation industry contributes more than $11.7 billion to the state’s economy every year. It also supports more than 115,000 jobs across the state and produces $8.5 billion annually in retail sales, accounting for 3.5 percent of Washington’s gross state product.

National forests cover 9.2 million acres of Washington – about one-fifth of the state’s total land mass. There are two million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the Evergreen State, including sites like Kettle River Range, Dark Divide and Lena Lake. 

“Roadless protections of intact habitats provide for the biggest bulls, largest bucks and best fishing on our public lands,” said Gregg Bafundo, Washington Field Representative for Trout Unlimited. “It is important as hunters and anglers that we pass down our heritage by protecting these special places.”

“Roadless areas are part of the identity of the Pacific Northwest,” said Tom Uniack, Conservation Director for the Washington Wilderness Coalition. “They are home to ancient forests, provide habitat for wild salmon and protect the clean water we drink. It is only a matter of time before these pristine areas are developed unless they can be legislatively protected.”

“Each year, more than 150 million American’s participate in active, outdoor recreation driving $300 billion in retail sale and services,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, President & CEO, of the Outdoor Industry Association. “Our customers seek and demand a full spectrum of quality, accessible outdoor experiences. From mountain biking in Washington’s Dark Divide Roadless Area to hunting in the Cheoah Bald in North Carolina, Forest Service roadless areas support a wide range of activities and are essential to local recreation economies.”

Roadless areas in America’s national forests provide irreplaceable societal and economic benefits worth billions of dollars annually by supporting jobs, protecting air and water quality, preserving fish and wildlife habitat, and delivering unique outdoor recreational opportunities. For example:

  • National forest lands provide drinking water to 125 million Americans in 900 cities across the United States
  • Roadless areas generate a significant portion of the outdoor industry’s $730 billion in annual revenues.
  • Roadless areas help to save taxpayer dollars by stemming the growth of the Forest Service’s estimated $5.3 billion maintenance backlog for roads and other infrastructure.
  • Roadless areas provide exceptional habitat for fish and game and extraordinary experiences for hunting and fishing.
  • Roadless areas provide critical habitat for 1,600 threatened or endangered plant and animal species.

Like the original 2001 Roadless Rule, the Roadless Area Conservation Act establishes a balanced and flexible policy that protects pristine roadless areas while still allowing for new roads and logging to fight forest fires and ensure public safety, full access to recreational activities, and continued oil and gas development on existing leases. 

This legislation also reflects the premium that Americans place on these last remaining untouched public lands. To date, the U.S. Forest Service has received over 4.2 million comments on the roadless rule -- the most extensive public involvement in a federal rulemaking ever -- with the vast majority in support of the rule’s protections. This legislation is strongly supported by fishing and hunting groups, the outdoor recreation industry, and environmental groups.

Sen. Cantwell also released a new report on the importance of roadless area protection, accompanying today’s introduction of the Roadless Area Conservation Act. This report highlights the many economic, environmental, and societal benefits that roadless areas provide and shows that the Roadless Act is a step toward more responsible government in an era of budget constraints for federal agencies, which are charged with maintaining existing assets and protecting public safety on public lands.

Cantwell has long championed the protection of America’s remaining roadless areas. In fact, during her first week as a U.S. Senator, Cantwell raised implementation of the roadless rule as a primary concern during the January 2001 nomination hearing of President George W. Bush’s pick for attorney general, John Ashcroft. Recently, Cantwell hailed the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld the rule to preserve national forests. In 2009, she introduced legislation with Inslee that would have codified the Roadless Rule into law and has repeatedly challenged administrative efforts to weaken or overturn it.