It’s time to speak up about preserving Washington state's pristine areas and the protections that keep them that way.
Thirteenmile Canyon is one of the wildest places in northeastern Washington, with its towering old-growth ponderosa pines, granite ledges, stunning views from an old fire lookout site and along the canyon rim, and miles of resplendent wildflowers in the spring. It’s home to a large array of wildlife. It’s easily accessible, traversed by a historic trail. And it’s one of the few places in the state where you can truly feel all alone. Yet, lands like this don’t remain pristine by accident. It takes a concerted effort to actively ensure that these lands remain unspoiled and undeveloped.
Thirteenmile Canyon, like the nearby Kettle River Range, the Olympic Peninsula’s Moonlight Dome, South Cascades’ Silver Star and other public lands throughout the state are too special to open up to logging and mining development. The federal government identifies these places as “roadless areas,” and they receive special protections under the federal Roadless Rule, an executive order enacted in 2001 by President Clinton. Not only are there no roads on these public lands, but these places are also some of the wildest in the country. I know. I have hiked hundreds of miles through these areas.
I applaud Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and 15 of their colleagues for supporting legislation to codify the Roadless Rule — to make it law. There are nearly 60 million roadless acres across the United States, including nearly 2 million acres in Washington. Six of Washington’s 119 roadless areas are in the top 5 percent wildest places in the contiguous United States.
These public lands make up much of our loved national-trails system, including the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. National forests contain all or portions of 354 watersheds that serve as drinking water sources for 60 million people nationwide. These areas serve as critical habitat for threatened or endangered animals such as Canadian lynx, grizzly bears, woodland caribou, Pacific salmon and bull trout.
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When the Roadless Rule was adopted, it had overwhelming bipartisan support. The rule was the result of more than 600 hearings around the United States and 1.6 million public comments. For two decades, this rule has safeguarded roadless federal forestlands from logging, mining and drilling for oil and gas. While Washington’s two senators are working to make the rule permanent, other members of Congress and the Trump administration are trying to erode its effectiveness.
Just recently, the state of Alaska — thanks in large part to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review whether The Last Frontier should be exempt from the Roadless Rule, hence diluting the protections in Alaska, but also threatening protections everywhere. At stake are 9 million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the country’s largest national forest, which contains portions of the largest intact temperate rain forest in North America. Exempting such a significant portion of the nation’s roadless areas would render the rule essentially moot and serve as a green light to other states also interested in exemptions from the federal rule.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has publicly stated his plan to petition the federal government to exempt his state from the Roadless Rule. Meanwhile, the Farm Bill, the multiyear funding legislation that directs what happens in the Department of Agriculture, is littered with controversial forestry measures that would open up 9 million acres of roadless areas in the Lower 48 to logging, and weaken review standards for thinning projects.
Now, more than ever, it’s time to speak up about preserving these pristine areas and the protections that keep them that way. An attack on the Roadless Rule anywhere is an attack on roadless forests everywhere. Tell the U.S. Forest Service to retain the 2001 Roadless Rule protections in Alaska, and also urge your Congressional delegation to make these protections law.