The League Goes Wild
League members must remain vigilant
to keep our roadless areas
by Kevin Proescholdt, IWLA Wilderness and Public Lands Program Director
Imagine a wild, undeveloped part of a national forest, rich in habitat and teeming with wildlife. Picture yourself hunting the area for deer or elk, fishing the clear streams, or hiking and camping in scenic beauty. Now imagine more than 50 million acres of such fabulous places. These are the roadless areas that Ikes have helped protect across the country.
A decade ago, the U.S. Forest Service adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to protect 58.5 million acres of roadless areas in national forests across the country. The Roadless Rule protects these areas from road building, logging, and development like mining or oil and gas drilling. On Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, for example, lies the Baker-Homer-Brule Roadless Area, an 8,500-acre undeveloped parcel adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with great opportunities for fishing, canoeing, and recreation.
The Izaak Walton League strongly supported adoption of the 2001 Roadless Rule, and many of our members wrote comments in support of it. The Bush administration, however, did not favor the 2001 rule. Instead, administration officials instituted a State Petitions Rule in 2005 that gave governors the opportunity to submit petitions to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting League’s executive director was invited to serve on the national rulemaking panel that evaluated state petitions.
Both the 2005 rule and the 2001 rule were challenged in the federal courts. The federal courts eventually threw out the 2005 State Petitions Rule, and differing courts have both thrown out and reinstated the 2001 rule. Right now, the Roadless Rule is in legal limbo. We are awaiting a decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that, if favorable, would fully reinstate the 2001 rule nationally.
However, the state of Colorado submitted a petition to govern roadless areas there when the State Petitions Rule was still in effect, and the petition process has been allowed to continue. The draft Colorado rule, which is still under review at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), would be less protective and include many more exemptions to permit road building than does the 2001 national rule. If adopted, the Colorado rule could not only result in significant road building in roadless areas in that state but could also set a bad precedent for other roadless areas in the future.
League staff are working with our members in Colorado to strengthen the proposed Colorado state rule to eliminate loopholes that would allow road construction in “roadless” areas. In 2010, Nelson Burton, a long-time leader in our Colorado Division, sent a letter to the Chief of the Forest Service requesting that the Colorado rule be strengthened. Using this letter, we’ve also enlisted the help of senior staff at USDA to strengthen the Colorado rule.
But the League’s battle for roadless areas and their wild and undeveloped character is far from over. We will analyze the Colorado rule when it is released for public comment and will need the help of League members to strengthen the Colorado rule if flaws remain. I hope all League members will help protect our precious roadless areas and their bugling elk, clean trout streams, and outstanding recreation.
— Kevin Proescholdt directs the League’s Wilderness and Public Lands Program in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Back to Winter 2011 issue of Outdoor America