While researching a new book last spring, I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Dale Bosworth, chief of the Forest Service. I found him to be an honest, straightforward, forthcoming, and, at times, courageous man. So when I read that he had agreed to the repeal of the Clinton-era Roadless Rule on our national forests--a ruling he supported as a career forester in the Clinton administration--I was shocked.
I wrote to Chief Bosworth, suggesting that if he
couldn’t deter the Bush administration from its reversal of
this epic act of conservation, he should consider resigning in
protest. This public act of conscience would draw attention to a
tragic step backward.
In response, he called me to talk.
That the chief of the Forest Service would reach out like this
impressed me once again. His willingness to discuss big issues with
ordinary citizens and his openness about his beliefs were rare and
Bosworth expressed two concerns about the
original ruling: This sweeping rule, he said, which preserves more
than 58 million roadless acres on national forests from further
road-building, left no room for boundary adjustments based on
what’s really out there. And, he added, the Forest Service
needed more outreach to locals who were feeling
He assured me that "we don’t need
more roads, we need to decommission roads." He said that large
timber companies are dinosaurs with little remaining power, and
that our 58 million acres of roadless public lands are not in
I was not reassured. I still feel as strongly as
ever that the Roadless Rule is a visionary act of conservation on
the same scale as Jimmy Carter’s preservation of Alaska
wildlands. Fine-tuning this vision does not require rejecting
The Clinton administration wasn’t perfect, but
the bedrock of its approach to the environment was conservation. It
did not see landscapes and resources primarily as commodities, to
be sold off quickly for corporate profit.
administration demonstrates the opposite agenda. It has sought to
change the framework of federal protection to turn over as much
control as possible to state and local officials and to maximize
short-term profit for energy and other corporations. Bush and his
inner circle are methodically dismantling generations of bipartisan
Administrations come and go, and agency
heads can be ordered to give away the farm. If administrators
happen to be weaker than a Dale Bosworth, they may well say yes.
This is the crux of the problem with the Bush revision of
the Roadless Rule. Citizen involvement had already helped to
develop a strong national policy of protecting this nation’s
remaining roadless acres. The Bush plan opens every last acre for
discussion, with states free to petition the Secretary of
Agriculture to lobby for development. Why would we want to revisit
this question, state by state, forest by forest, with politics
pressuring us to modify our already-stated national
More American citizens wrote to the Forest Service
to support the Roadless Rule -- this powerful statement about our
dedication to conserving unroaded wildlands within our national
forests--than expressed opinions on any other federal rule, ever.
Short or long, every comment represented citizens who took the
trouble and time to write. It didn’t matter where they lived,
because each of us is a public-land owner, and in the America we
strive to create, every vote counts equally.
is conservative. Every loss is permanent. Generations to follow
won’t approve if we sell off their heritage casually.
I’ve written again to the Forest Service chief, pleading with
him to think about his legacy. In one scenario, he will be
remembered as the man who fought for the greatest large-scale
conservation action of the last hundred years. In the alternate
version, historians will identify him as the man who agreed to the
largest de-protection action of the last hundred years.
Why abandon protection we already have in place? Why risk any
chance of political expediency overriding national interest? It is
our obligation to think nationally, to retain as many resources as
possible for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, to keep
the debate over development as far as possible from corporate greed
and special interests.
The Roadless Rule isn’t as
powerful as wilderness designation. But it makes wild country more
difficult to fragment with new roads. Repealing the rule makes
wildlands more vulnerable. It’s as simple as that.