Protecting America’s forests conserves critical habitat for imperiled species, helps keep our water and air clean, and mitigates climate change.

Washington, DC

Today, Representative Gallego (D-AZ) and Senator Cantwell (D-WA), along with 15 other lawmakers, reintroduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act (RACA).  This legislation would codify the Roadless Rule on 58.5 million acres of national forest land nationwide—including within Alaska. 

The Roadless Rule—which in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest protects brown bears, the highest known concentration of bald eagles, and so much other diverse wildlife—has been challenged by anti-conservation presidents for decades. Former President Trump removed Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass, but President Biden thoughtfully restored them earlier this year. 

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Eagle Flying - Alaska
Pam Hergett/USFS

Passing RACA would enshrine by law the Roadless Rule to protect robust forest ecosystems in the Tongass and across the country for generations to come. Nationwide, the Roadless Rule protects drinking water sources for 60 million people, numerous at-risk species, recreational opportunities for millions, and reduces the risk of wildfires while fighting climate change. 

National forests are critical climate solutions, and Alaska’s temperate rainforests must be protected not only to benefit local sustainable uses, but also for the global imperative to address the climate crisis. Through the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS), the Biden administration has rightfully identified a long-term vision—including ending large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest and engaging in meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations—that works for people, biodiversity and climate alike.  

Now Congress has the opportunity to follow this strong lead and codify this widely supported rule by passing this legislation.  

Groups issued the following statements in response to today’s news: 

“Our climate needs the certainty that temperate rainforests like the Tongass will remain intact, regardless of who sits in the White House in the coming decades,” said Alex Cohen, federal affairs director at Alaska Wilderness League Action. “The Roadless Rule in Alaska has been restored by this administration, and now it’s time to make the Roadless Rule the law of the land. We thank Representative Gallego for introducing this important legislation.” 

“The Roadless Area Conservation Act would protect nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest from harmful human development, and we are excited for its reintroduction in Congress,” said Mary Olive, Sr. Government Relations Representative at The Wilderness Society. “Roadless areas in our National Forests are critical for threatened wildlife species—57 percent of species of conservation concern have suitable habitat within an Inventoried Roadless Area. Additionally, these areas are vital for carbon storage, public health benefits, water quality and recreation opportunities. It is imperative that we keep roadless forests intact if we want to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, and we urge Congress to finally pass this legislation.”

“Our national forests are our best natural solutions for tackling the climate crisis and preserving biodiverse ecosystems,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “Protecting them from reckless and unnecessary road construction and logging would conserve these incredible habitats and safeguard Indigenous communities that call our national forests home while allowing roadless forests to continue playing a critical role in fighting climate change. It’s time for Congress to pass this legislation and permanently protect some of our most wild and important forests from industry interests that threaten wildlife, outdoor recreation, water resources, and the traditional customs of Indigenous peoples.”

“Old-growth and mature forests are vital to climate mitigation and necessary for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. We must take action to support protection of our national forests across the country, and particularly listen to the leadership of Indigenous peoples when their traditional forest homelands and territories are at risk. We support the Roadless Area Conservation Act (RACA) to permanently protect our precious forests from extractive industries. Congress needs to ensure forests, communities and our global climate are no longer threatened,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.

“We are proud to support the re-introduction of the Roadless Area Conservation Act, which would establish permanent protections for national forest wildlands across the country,” said Kaila Hood, Conservation Government Affairs Advocate. “This legislation would prevent future administrations from removing critical protections for roadless areas, like those in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. LCV stands with local communities, Native Alaskan and tribal leaders, and our conservation partners to protect roadless areas and the environment, recreational opportunities, clean air and water and cultural resources encompassed within them.” 

“Thank you to House and Senate leaders for their unwavering commitment to protecting our nation’s forests, including millions of acres here in Alaska,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska Program Director. “Protecting America’s forests conserves critical habitat for imperiled species, helps keep our water and air clean, and mitigates climate change.”

“The Roadless Rule is the most significant forest conservation measure of the last two decades—period,” said Alex Craven, Acting Forest Campaign Manager at Sierra Club. “That significance has also made it a constant target by logging and development interests. Codifying this crucial rule would ensure it can continue to protect nearly 60 million acres of national forests for generations to come.” 

“We thank the sponsors of the Roadless Area Conservation Act,” said Ellen Montgomery, Public Lands Campaign Director at Environment America. “The 22 years have taught us that there will be attacks on the Roadless Rule. That’s why we need to enshrine it in a congressionally mandated law. Right now is the time to strengthen this rule and demonstrate our commitment to protecting some of the most awe-inspiring places in our National Forests. We need more nature in our lives, and we get more value out of protecting our national forests for the long-haul than we do from allowing logging companies to harvest more logs.”

“Roadless areas and old-growth forests on the Tongass alone store some 20 percent of all the carbon on the national forest system. This legislation will ensure the Tongass and the nation’s remaining intact areas will continue to function as natural climate solutions. It is a critical step toward the international goal of protecting 30 percent of all lands and waters by 2030,” said Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage

“If you care about clean drinking water, controlling climate change, preserving wildlife, or just enjoying natural beauty, you care a lot about national forest wildlands. This bill would secure 60 million acres of those public resources forever, ending years of political football and needless uncertainty over their fate,” said Niel Lawrence, senior attorney for the Nature program at NRDC.

“Gunalchéesh, thank you, to Representative Gallego, Senator Cantwell, and bill co-sponsors for reintroducing the Roadless Area Conservation Act (RACA) today. In working to ensure the Roadless Rule remains in place on the Tongass, this legislation moves our country a significant step forward in permanently safeguarding the lands of the Tongass National Forest, the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples,” said Maranda Hamme, Tongass Forest Program Manager, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/newsroom or follow us on X @Defenders.

  

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