Thanks to Southern Rockies Nature Blog, I got a delightful piece of news over the transom a few minutes ago:
The Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court's decision in favor of the roadless rule, which prevents road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 [some sources say 50] million acres of National Forest System lands.
We've been waiting a long time to exhale on this one.
We were a tiny little team of less than half a dozen people who managed to get in more comments in support of roadless forest protection than for any another proposed rule in the history of the United States.
I remember the snowy day when Bill Clinton signed the rule at the National Arboretum here in Washington,. D.C. We all loaded into my station wagon, along with a few foundation officials, and with the car fishtailing like crazy on icy streets, we went to see President Bill Clinton praise an ancient Gaylord Nelson (Father of Earth Day) as the snow gently came down and coated the trees.
It was a picture-perfect scene, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
A year or two earlier, I had written a short case for action:
For about 95 years, the Forest Service has put the interests of the timber industry above those of hikers, hunters and fishermen. In recent years, however, the Forest Service has come to recognize that the economic value of recreation in our national forests is 30 times higher than that of timber.
Rather than keeping people out, the Forest Service is actually listening to the diverse needs and opinions of those who use our national forests for more than timber extraction.
A recent poll of America's 50 million hunters and fishermen sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance a coalition that includes the Izaak Walton League of America, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Trout Unlimited found that 86 percent of anglers and 83 percent of hunters support efforts by sportsmen and women to keep the remaining roadless areas in our national forests free of roads.
A recent survey by the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint found more than three-quarters of Americans support permanently protecting roadless areas in national forests a belief shared by 62 percent of Republicans and two-thirds of those living in the Western United States.
With more than 380,000 miles of roads in our national forests a distance eight times the length of the interstate highway system it's hard to argue that creating more roads will improve recreational access.
The Forest Service reports that less than 40 percent of current logging roads are properly maintained a sad state of disrepair that the Forest Service would like to correct, both to improve access by hikers, hunters and fishermen, but also to reduce environmental damage caused by abandoned logging roads sliding down mountains, polluting streams, and serving as dumping grounds.
The real forest debate is not about access, but about excess. When should the rapacious self-interests of the timber companies be curtailed to preserve the hunting, fishing and recreational interests of the American people?
The good news is that the Forest Service is finally turning to the American people for the answer to that question rather than the big lumber companies and their paid apologists on Capitol Hill.
When the Roadless Rule was signed into law, I thought nothing could undo it.
But of course I was naive. George Bush took millions of dollars in payola from the timber interests, and ended up tossing out the Roadless Rule as part of an overtly political quid pro quo.
The good news, is that now it's all over. Fifty and 150 years from now, if our children and grandchildren have wild lands and wilderness where they can hike for two or three weeks solid without seeing a car, an airplane, or an electrical line, I hope they will remember that saving these acres was not an accident, but a nearly 40-year struggle.
As Matt J. said as we left the arboretum in 2001,
"It not everything, but it's the most ever."