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Two Decades of Roadless Rule Helped Fight Climate Change

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National forests are a massive sink for carbon dioxide that help stave off the effects of global warming. (Adobe Stock)
National forests are a massive sink for carbon dioxide that help stave off the effects of global warming. (Adobe Stock)
January 12, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Roadless Rule became law 20 years ago today. The bedrock conservation policy halted commercial logging and the building of new roads across nearly 60 million remote acres of national forests nationwide.

More than 650,000 acres of Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest are protected by the rule. Retired Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Jim Furnish warned the Trump administration's decision last fall to open up Alaska's Tongass National Forest to loggers chips away at the rule and could have ramifications for the fight against climate change.

"Even here, 20 years after the Roadless Rule was promulgated, we're still doing battle over the same old issues: logging versus protection," Furnish said.

Environmental groups, along with Alaskan tribes and fishermen, are suing to restore protections for the more than 9 million acres of the Tongass previously deemed roadless areas. Supporters argue easing restrictions will provide regional economic benefits from tree logging and mineral extraction.

Furnish said protecting national forests is one of the most effective ways to combat CO2 production.

"The Tongass National Forest is an international champion in its capacity to store carbon in trees. And so this relaxation or allowing logging of old-growth forests in the Tongass National Forest goes right at the heart of more progressive strategies to try and use forests to protect against climate change," he said.

He pointed out Tennessee's national forests have been a tremendous asset to the ecology of the eastern United States, and said any weakening of the Roadless Rule could give states more leeway to open them up.

"And I think one of the beauties of the eastern national forests is they bring us back to a bygone area of what the eastern United States used to look like when it was basically unbroken forest from the Mississippi to the Atlantic shores," he said.

Furnish said the Roadless Rule also helps cut taxpayer costs for road maintenance and habitat management, and helps preserve drinking water for nearby communities.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN