By the 1990s, science demonstrated the value of national forest areas where roads had not yet penetrated. They contain some of the best remaining old-growth ecosystems, home to rare spotted owls, salmon and other endangered species. Existing laws protected less than half the roadless areas not in congressionally designated wilderness. Even those protections seemed tenuous, given the timber industry's political power and appetite.

National environmental groups couldn't persuade Congress to pass a law protecting roadless forest in general, and passing a single wilderness bill can take years of frustrating politicking. During the long negotiations, bulldozers often cut new roads through potential wilderness areas, taking them out of the running for strong protection. Roads also bring in weeds, wildlife-stressing traffic and other impacts. Small groups of forest activists protested by chaining themselves to heavy equipment and obstructing loggers in the woods.

That atmosphere of desperation led to the campaign for a large-scale roadless-forest rule. Leaders say it emerged organically, not through any conspiracy. But they agree that three forces provided traction in late 1997: President Clinton pushed the Forest Service to invent some means of protecting roadless areas. The Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, reportedly the biggest funder of environmental groups, launched the Heritage Forests Campaign to rally public support. And many other groups were ready to join the effort.

"The name (of the campaign) was chosen after testing several variations on focus groups," reports Turner. " 'Heritage' (is) an attractive and relatively neutral word."

During the next three years, while the Clinton administration developed the roadless-forest rule, Pew and other foundations pumped about $10 million into environmental groups for protection of roadless forest, according to congressional testimony. The Heritage Forests Campaign was a kind of headquarters; from its base within the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C., it used about $3.5 million to contract with other groups such as The Wilderness Society for their expertise in political campaigns and environmental regulations.

George Frampton, the head of The Wilderness Society from 1986 to 1993, became a key player. He was Clinton's top adviser on environmental policy from late 1998 to 2001, running the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. "When I got to CEQ, one of the first things I did was to have (roadless-forest protection) presented to the president: 'Let's go for this, a real protective rule, let's just protect all these wild places,' " Frampton says.

Ken Rait, who ran the Heritage Forests Campaign at the beginning, had many contacts in the Clinton administration through his previous work with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Oregon Natural Resources Council. Rait says he saw a "historic" opportunity to "craft a campaign where people could feel like part of a winning team," with an "upbeat" message and broad appeal. "Protection of wild places," he says, "is a motherhood and apple pie issue."

The huge effort was necessary because the environmentalists -- in both the campaign and the administration -- wanted more than just an executive order issued by Clinton. A Forest Service "administrative rule" would be harder for future presidents to change. Prodded by Clinton, the Forest Service announced its general intentions in October 1999. Then the agency spent 15 months on an environmental impact statement, including rounds of analysis and public comments. About 10,000 people commented in public hearings near the forests and far more than a million commented by mail, fax and e-mail.

"Wholesale and retail organizing" -- that's how Rait describes the campaign's strategy. The "wholesale" end used new Internet tools. The groups pooled their e-mail lists and sent out e-mail "blasts" to hundreds of thousands of activists, directing them to Web sites where they could click to generate boilerplate e-mail comments and "e-mail postcards" to the Clinton administration. They "pioneered new electronic tricks," Turner reports, "Internet banner ads, click-through ads on Yahoo, ads that people could send to their friends and colleagues (so-called viral ads)." Specialized tech companies and nonprofits did that work, including The Technology Project, based at the Rockefeller Family Fund in New York, and The Partnership Project, which The Turner Foundation launched in 1999 with a separate $5 million grant just to make groups' e-mail lists more effective.

The "retail" organizing dispatched activists to metro neighborhoods, malls and colleges, asking people to sign pre-printed postcards supporting the roadless rule. "We explained to people the importance of protecting roadless areas and got them to take the first step in political action," recalls Angela Storey, then a college student, who asked thousands of people in Washington state and the Boston area to sign postcards in 1999 and 2000. She says many who did had a "personal connection" with forests through recreation or living nearby. "For me, it was a really important campaign. I grew up in the Cascades and saw the increase in clear-cuts and roads, and I studied biology in college, learning about the massive changes in the environment."