The Roadless Rule, under threat, is important to protecting the PCT

A new threat could bring development projects along the Pacific Crest Trail, diminishing or destroying the peace and serenity of your next day hike, backpacking trip or horseback ride in your favorite national forest.

Several bills being championed in Congress and other initiatives being pursued in some states would allow road building and logging in national forest inventoried roadless areas. These have the potential to diminish or eliminate important development restrictions that protect these sensitive roadless areas.

The Roadless Rule of 2001 set aside 58.5 million acres of America’s roadless areas in national forests. In many places throughout the U.S., these were the last natural areas outside of designated wilderness where the forests and grasslands had not been logged, mined or parted by roads. The Roadless Rule prohibits large-scale development in these places, preserving their natural character while promoting their value for outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing, and clean air and water.

Today, national forest roadless areas protect 231 miles of the PCT. The PCT crosses 71 roadless areas in Washington, Oregon and California. Many of these share a border with federal wilderness areas and contribute to the quality of the landscape and popularity of the trail experience. It’s one reason The PCT is known as America’s wilderness trail.

When you’re out on the trail, you want peace, quiet and solitude. You may not know or care how the land is being set aside, you simply want to be immersed in the landscape, to feel like you’re in the wild. There are many ways your desired experience is protected.

The PCT crosses 48 federal wilderness areas. About half the trail is in federal wilderness, our nation’s most stringent form of management protection. The trail also crosses state and national parks, national monuments, national forests, BLM lands and even conservation easements on private property. All provide varying levels of protection. Stitched together, these designations ensure that your trail experience is the best it can be.

Each component of this protective net is important as we work toward a fully protected trail. So, taking away the safeguards provided by roadless areas — making it easier for logging and mining companies to gain access — has the potential to severely diminish the experience we’ve all enjoyed and come to expect over the decades on the PCT.

In addition to the bills in Congress, several states are seeking special interest exemptions to the Roadless Rule that would allow public land — owned by all American’s regardless of which state they live in — to be disrupted for the benefit of industry. If any of these efforts are approved by the administration, it would set a precedent for how public lands surrounding the PCT and other National Scenic Trails could be administered.

There are efforts being made to counteract attacks on the Roadless Rule.

On Aug. 1, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018, which would ensure continuing protections for millions of roadless acres in national forests, including those along the PCT. She has 16 cosponsors, including all the senators from PCT states: Patty Murray from Washington, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley from Oregon and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris from California.

Sen. Maria Cantwell during an Aug. 16 announcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Vision for Sound Stewardship on America’s Forests. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Cantwell’s bill, S. 3333, supports the clean water, recreation, and wildlife values of roadless national forests.

  • More than 60 million Americans get their clean drinking water from national forests, and roadless areas contain all or portions of 354 municipal watersheds.
  • More than 240 million people live within 100 miles of a national forest or national grassland. These places provide public access to abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, bird watching and backcountry skiing.
  • Outdoor recreation contributes billions to the U.S. economy. In 2017, the outdoor economy generated $887 billion in consumer spending, 7.6 million direct jobs, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
  • Roadless areas nationwide provide important habitat for fish and wildlife in our national forests, including more than 2,100 threatened, endangered, or sensitive animal and plant species.

It’s not a stretch to see the significant benefits of protecting national forest roadless areas. There are easy ways you can help to protect the PCT and its roadless areas:

  • Contact your Senator or Representative and tell them that you support our wild forests, the exceptional recreation opportunities and habitat they provide, and urge them to do all they can to defend the Roadless Rule.
  • Write and submit a letter to the editor to your local newspaper voicing your support for the Roadless Rule.

Our National Trails System, which turns 50 years old this year, is part of our heritage and a legacy to the generations who will follow ours. It’s our duty to protect the Pacific Crest Trail for them as well as for us. Today, we should be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our amazing trail system rather than fighting to preserve the roadless areas within them.


The Pacific Crest Trail Association would like to thank Sen Maria Cantwell for sponsoring the bill to protect roadless areas and all the senators from PCT states for cosponsoring it.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.