Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Forest Feelings
distributed 9/4/04 - ©2004

We can't talk about the Roadless Rule without talking about feelings -- passionate feelings.

The Roadless Rule (technically, "The Roadless Area Conservation Rule") is a Clinton-era federal policy that was enacted to maintain the undeveloped character of large chunks of National Forest land. A recent Bush administration proposal for managing roadless areas -- open for public comment until September 14, 2004 -- dramatically changes that policy.

Trying to have a nice, rational discussion about the roadless policy will miss the gut-level dynamics that really drive this debate.

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How do you feel about the presence of almost 60 million acres of forest land without roads, mines, logging operations, or other "developments"?

Do you feel grateful, or angry? Do you feel excluded, or affirmed?

At the deepest levels, do you feel that God's intentions are being met when roads and their many associated human uses are kept out of those forest tracts? This policy debate hinges on those sorts of core theological convictions.

The Clinton rule is grounded in a belief that the common good is served when invasive human activities are confined to the 70% of National Forest lands that have already been "roaded" and disturbed. The current rule says that roads should be pushed into identified and preserved roadless area only in rare and carefully considered situations. New incursions are the exception to the overall policy.

The proposed Bush rule is grounded in a belief that the common good is served when those lands are opened up to all possible human uses. The proposed rule says that conservation should be rare. The preservation of roadless areas would be considered -- just considered -- only after an extensive, expensive and complicated political process that must be initiated by state governors. Conservation would be the exception.

Feeling run strong on both sides, but -- from my vantage point -- the most passionate emotions come from those who are offended by the existing, Clinton-era Roadless Rule. Those people feel excluded, "locked out" of areas to which they feel entitled to access.

Part of their passion comes from a sense that the land exists to provide humans with valuable resources. It is there, they believe, to provide us with timber, oil and gas, coal, and other minerals. "Locking up" the land keeps us from the wealth-producing products which might be extracted.

But the debate is not just economic. The opponents of the Clinton-era rule are angry about limitations on their freedom. Whether or not there are resources to be extracted, whether or not the economic calculations show profits, these folk believe that our humanity is diminished when restrictions are placed on our activities. The conservation of public lands for ecological reasons is an affront to their sense of human destiny.

Their description of the policy emphasizes what is kept out, what is excluded. They are angry that the government will not allow them to build roads, to push new access into trackless areas. It is the same passion that has been demonstrated over and over again in attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The depth of feeling is driven by an aversion to any limits on human freedom and power.

Obviously, there are passions on the other side. There are people who are adamant about keeping vehicles and industry out of wild lands. Their convictions, too, are grounded in core beliefs. From my perspective, those beliefs are more nuanced.

Those who back the existing rule, who affirm the preservation of roadless areas, seek a range and a balance in the use of National Forest lands. There are already 386,000 miles of roads in the National Forests, providing access for diverse recreation opportunities and extractive economic uses on more than 2/3 of the Forest lands. The existing rule imposes constraints on some of the federal lands, in order to preserve watersheds, habitat and biological diversity, and the solitude of non-motorized recreation.

The advocates of the existing rule are passionate in their belief that humanity and the fullness of God's creation are enhanced when a significant portion of federal lands are preserved. Their descriptions of roadless area policies affirm what is protected, and decry what is destroyed by human "development."

The passionate feelings are sharply divided. There are those who are driven by human freedom and economic opportunity, and who are willing to sacrifice ecological health. There are those who are driven by ecological sustainability and stewardship of creation, and who are willing to sacrifice some human freedom.

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How do you feel about 60 million acres of roadless areas in National Forests? Do you feel blessed or cursed when those lands are withheld from extensive human use? How would you feel if that policy were changed so that conservation and preservation of those lands was the rare exception?

If you have strong feelings one way or the other, it is important for you to express your beliefs as part of the rule-making process. Before September 14, 2004, tell the Forest Service whether you affirm or reject the proposed new rules. Give voice to your core principles.

Knowing something about the regular readers of this newsletter, it is my assumption and my hope that you will write to the Forest Service with strong opposition to the proposed new rules. I'll make it easier for those of you who want to take that stance, but I encourage all of you to communicate your convictions on this important policy matter.

  • Most easily, at, you can add your signature to a National Council of Churches statement against the proposed rule.

  • At, you can read more about the issue, then adapt a sample statement and submit it electronically.

  • Most effectively -- if you get it done on time! -- you can write a personal statement and submit it to the Forest Service by mail, fax or e-mail. Addresses and technical details for submitting comments are in the box below.
Our core faith convictions about the purpose of God's creation and the characteristics of human nature are deeply personal and emotional. Those convictions define the stances we take on matters of great importance -- including the future of 1/3 of the National Forest lands in the United States.

With all the passionate feelings of your faith, write a letter today.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

To submit a personal statement about the Roadless Rule

  • Research the details at or

  • Be sure your letter arrives by Tuesday, September 14, 2004.

  • Address your letter, "Dear Chief Bosworth" (Chief of the Forest Service) or "Dear Secretary Veneman" (Secretary of the Department of Agriculture)

  • Include the statement "Please accept this letter as official public comment for the roadless area management state petition proposal [Docket Number: 04-16191]."

  • If you are mailing your letter, send it to:
    Content Analysis Team
    ATTN: Roadless State Petitions
    USDA Forest Service
    P.O. Box 221090
    Salt Lake City , UT 84122

  • Fax your statement to (801) 517-1014

  • E-mail your statement to It is probably better to include the statement in the body of your e-mail, and avoid attachments.

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