Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019

Found this message in my inbox…. mentions the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019, introduced in May by Rep. Ruben Gallego, (D) Arizona. “To provide lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System.”

Last line of the bill is the heart of it: “The Secretary shall not allow road construction, road reconstruction, or logging in an inventoried roadless area where those activities are prohibited by the Roadless Rule.”

Sounds like this prohibits thinning and other types management.



Grizzly bears, bald eagles and other wildlife have thrived for centuries amid the towering trees of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Now they need our help.

The Trump administration is poised to open the Tongass up to logging, mining, road-building and other destructive development, potentially clearcutting its pristine wilderness.1

But today, we have a chance to protect the Tongass — permanently.

Tell Congress: Keep the Tongass wild.

In 2001, our national network’s staff and 1.6 million supporters helped convince the Clinton administration to protect roadless areas in national forests from logging and other development.

The principle was simple: If it’s still wild, it should stay that way.

The resulting “Roadless Rule” protected 58.5 million acres of national forest in 39 states.2 But the Trump administration is poised to remove this protection for the Tongass, putting the ancient forest and the wildlife that call it home directly in the path of logging, mining and drilling interests.3

A new bill in Congress, the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019, would give the Roadless Rule the full force of law. That means the Trump administration — or any future administration — would no longer have the authority to exempt the Tongass from Roadless Rule protections.4

Tell your U.S. House representative: Pass the Roadless Area Conservation Act.

The trees of the Tongass are older than America itself. The forest forms a sprawling ecosystem that is home to moose, deer, bears and more. Its rivers teem with salmon and more than 300 different species of birds perch in its branches.5,6

Our world is already running short on nature. To risk losing a place like the Tongass simply to extract just a few more resources from the earth would be a tragedy. Tell your representative to stand up for the Tongass.

Thank you for making it all possible.


Celeste Meiffren-Swango
State Director

1. Elizabeth Jenkins, “Is there something for everyone in a new vision for Tongass roads?” KTOO Public Media, November 28, 2018.
2. “New Legislation Blocks New Roads On Nearly 60 Million Acres Of Public Forests,” KXRO News, May 3, 2019.
3. Elizabeth Jenkins, “New legislation introduced in Congress aims to strengthen Roadless Rule,” KTOO Public Media, May 2, 2019.
4. Elizabeth Jenkins, “New legislation introduced in Congress aims to strengthen Roadless Rule,” KTOO Public Media, May 2, 2019.
5. “Conservation: Tongass National Forest,” Audubon Alaska, accessed June 11, 2019.
6. “Tongass National Forest: Glaciers,” United States Department of Agriculture, accessed June 11, 2019.

17 thoughts on “Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019”

  1. The idea of the legislation would be to shut the door on further state-specific rules. After Colorado and Idaho State Rules, with no evidence of ecosystems unraveling (and one project having been litigated since the promulgation of the Colorado Rule) the evidence suggests that people should be concerned and weigh in on state specific rules but not get carried away with rhetoric (however unlikely that would be!)

    I wouldn’t say so, as the roadless rule does allow thinning.

    Ҥ 294.13 Prohibition on timber cutting, sale, or removal in inventoried roadless areas.
    (a) Timber may not be cut, sold, or removed in inventoried roadless areas of
    the National Forest System, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.
    (b) Notwithstanding the prohibition in paragraph (a) of this section, timber may
    be cut, sold, or removed in inventoried roadless areas if the Responsible Official
    determines that one of the following circumstances exists. The cutting, sale,
    or removal of timber in these areas is expected to be infrequent.
    (1) The cutting, sale, or removal of generally small diameter timber is
    needed for one of the following purposes and will maintain or improve
    one or more of the roadless area characteristics as defined in § 294.11.
    (i) To improve threatened, endangered, proposed, or sensitive
    species habitat; or (ii) To maintain or restore the
    characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to
    reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects, within the range of
    variability that would be expected to occur under natural disturbance regimes
    of the current climatic period;
    (2) The cutting, sale, or removal of timber is incidental to the
    implementation of a management activity not otherwise prohibited by this
    (3) The cutting, sale, or removal of timber is needed and appropriate for
    personal or administrative use, as provided for in 36 CFR part 223; or
    (4) Roadless characteristics have been substantially altered in a portion of an
    inventoried roadless area due to the construction of a classified road and
    subsequent timber harvest. Both the road construction and subsequent
    timber harvest must have occurred after the area was designated an inventoried
    roadless area and prior to January 12, 2001. Timber may be cut, sold, or
    removed only in the substantially altered portion of the inventoried
    roadless area.”

    Most of the thinnings I have seen have been under ii. No new roads, of course, but equipment is OK. We talked about this a lot working on Colorado Roadless. People who wanted to keep the 2001 Rule said we could do all the fuel treatments we wanted under the 2001. We felt less comfortable about lingering potential legal hooks (what is the “current climatic period”? What is generally small diameter in a dead lodgepole stand (where either everything or nothing is small diameter?) and so on.

  2. As one who worked extensively and intimately on the original 2001 Rule, we were most concerned about restricting COMMERCIAL logging in remnant roadless lands, while allowing reasonable tree cutting if essential for non-commercial purposes. By referring to the Rule itself, that premise would hold.

    Legislation would resolve the vulnerability of a federal regulation to reversal or watering down, but the likelihood that a Roadless law would pass the current Republican-majority Senate is, well, zero. If the Senate is flipped, I could rate prospects as high.

      • Great question, Steve…there is a bias that has been long held that if a profit is being made by cutting trees, it is not ecologically sound management.”Nay”, says I.

        But, let’s not be ignorant that the “trust” issue (or lack of) is also predominant in this debate.

    • Jim, but that’s not what the Rule says… “The cutting, sale, or removal” . Now I agree that “no new road, temp or perm,” which is also in the Rule, tends to restrict the possibilities of commercial harvest (remember when people were working on the big balloon harvesting system?) but that’s what the Rule says about commercial harvest- it’s OK if you can get the logs out without (new) roads.

      • I have also thought the “commercial” terminology is unhelpful. Selling trees has no impacts (though their removal does). I’m also not sure everyone has the same definition of “commerical.” I’ve suspected the concern is mostly about limiting incentives to log these areas, but if there are good enough reasons to log, then it gets harder to argue that the logs shouldn’t be sold. I’ve often thought a good disincentive would be to prohibit counting this volume towards timber targets.

        • The “commercial” label is often intended to imply that only big and valuable trees will be cut. Same for “industrial”, except that many timber companies do not manage their forests like the Forest Service does, particularly in California (where “industrial” and “commercial” seem to be used the most in describing thinning projects).

        • Jon, I don’t really understand how timber targets work but I think that sounds like an idea that deserves further discussion. Of course many fuel treatments have fuel loadings such that the material needs to be moved from the site either way. So you burn it, leave it in a pile, or sell it to someone who can make something out of it ( or burn it themselves).

  3. If the Senate and the White House won’t sign on to it, why is this bill being pursued? Both Parties seem to like producing bills which would never be passed, in a dysfunctional Congress. Symbolic bills waste time and deepen the partisan divide.

    For a change, why not promote bills which have bipartisan support? (if any exist) Such practices waste the precious time we have left to change the policies which add to analysis paralysis. However, of course, the extremes are more than happy to sacrifice the environment, in favor of partisan politics.

    • Larry, I would add that rabid partisanites are not just singling out the environment. Pretty much all policy debate that can be partisanized. Some groups, such as No Labels are working against that in the broader policy arena.

  4. Okay, Y’all — about “commercial”… We began with the premise that in a consideration of values, the value of roadless character argued against viewing “commercial timber lands” (see NFMA) and the sale of timber primarily for commerce — financial activity per se — as permissible within a roadless area — the two are effectively mutually exclusive. Though we did not not preclude “commercial harvest” (see 294.13 (a) and (b)) we described limits one why trees could be cut. This did not include making money, or financial reasons i.e. timber could not be SOLD except for purposes other than making money. Thus IF trees WERE cut, for purposes of protecting or sustaining roadless values, they could be sold.

    • I don’t know anyone who would cut timber in roadless areas primarily for “commerce” or “making money” as you can’t build temp roads. Unless people figure out the old balloon/helicopter perhaps giant drone (if a drone is big enough to pick up a log, is it still a drone?). Unless the roads are pre-existing to the designation (as in “sustantially altered). And interestingly the substantially altered acres get their own exception: “Roadless characteristics have been substantially altered in a portion of an
      inventoried roadless area due to the construction of a classified road and subsequent timber harvest. Both the road construction and subsequent timber harvest must have occurred after the area was designated an inventoried roadless area and prior to January 12, 2001. Timber may be cut, sold, or removed only in the substantially altered portion of the inventoried
      roadless area.”:
      So it doesn’t actually say what the purposes can be in “substantially altered”. Which makes sense to me. But I wonder whether anyone has ever done it (held a purpose and need commercial timber sale in a substantially altered area)? It probably wouldn’t be worth the hassle, if other areas are presumably available for harvest. The purpose and need for projects to cut trees in roadless areas has always been fuel treatments in the ones I’ve seen. Too bad we can’t query PALS to find out what and how many projects there are doing this.

    • Thanks for the explanation, Jim.

      FWIW, commercial harvesting is prohibited in Portlany’s Bull Run Watershed. An old story I’ve heard — I don’t know that this is true — is that some beautiful old-growth trees were once removed from the reservoir as part of routine maintenance of the dam, etc. Those logs would have fetched a pretty penny, but because of the ban on commercial harvests, they couldn’t be sold. The story goes that they were piled and burned.

  5. I thought it was pretty obvious that the FS sold timber in roadless areas for DECADES primarily to make money — prior to the Roadless Conservation Rule. That was the point — to prevent this in the future.

    • Jim, when we considered a pre-Roadless Rule construct during the 1995 RPA Program, the point was the most areas were roadless because they hadn’t been logged (therefore there were no logging roads, therefore they were roadless).

  6. I was just looking at some the GIS data from FACTs illustrating timber harvest. When overlaying that with 2001 roadless data, it looks like, for the most part, timber harvest have stayed out of roadless since 2001. The couple places where it is occurring looked fairly roaded. That triggered me to remember that many of the roadless areas defined in the 2001 rule were fairly roaded. (especially the the 1C where road construction was allowed.) So this may be allowing folks to go and and get timber from roadless areas without building roads in some cases.

    • Aaron, my understanding was that during the development of the 2001 Rule, they didn’t have the quality mapping they have today. And they were in a hurry to get the Rule out before administrations changed. Some people argued that they needed to ground truth the maps, but they didn’t .. instead recognized that the maps weren’t perfect but when they (accidentally) roaded acres into roadless, it was OK to continue to use them and log them, hence the language in the rule about “substantially altered” acres. It was a good compromise given the situation IMHO. , although people still wonder why there are roads in roadless areas.

      On the other hand, part of the Colorado Roadless Rulemaking was to remove the “substantially altered acres” roadless inventory, and replace those with “true” roadless acres (they added more true acres than the altered ones they removed).


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