Environmental groups have joined forces to fight the US government’s plans to develop and log parts of the country’s pristine national forests.

A group of 20 environmental organisations, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, have launched legal action following the Bush administration’s repeal of the Clinton-era roadless rule, which protected 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest.

The legal action has been denounced by the American Forest Resource Council, which said the environmental groups should participate in the forest management process. It also said road building in forests would help prevent wildfires.

Environmental groups argue that virgin forests need to remain untouched because they are among the most pristine places in the US, with clean drinking water and unspoilt wildlife habitat.

The lawsuit follows similar legal challenges from the attorney generals of California, New Mexico and Oregon.