Roadless Area Conservation Rule Again Upheld in Appeals Court
DENVER, Colorado, October 24, 2011 (ENS) – The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long-awaited, landmark decision Friday, securing critical legal protections for nearly 60 million acres of pristine National Forest lands.
The court reversed a lower court decision and affirmed the validity of the Roadless Rule, a 2001 federal rule that protects wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development.
The appellate court ruled against the State of Wyoming and industry intervenors and in favor of conservation groups, the Forest Service, and the States of California, Oregon, and Washington.
This ruling formally ends an injunction against the rule’s enforcement imposed by a Wyoming federal district court in 2008.
“The public forests we’ve fought so hard to protect are now safe,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “All Americans can now know that a key part of our nation’s natural heritage won’t be destroyed.”
The forest in Patrick’s Knob roadless area in Montana’s Coeur D’Alene Mountains (Photo © Terry Glase courtesy Earthjustice)
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of the most comprehensive rulemaking process in the nation’s history, including more than two million comments from members of the public, hundreds of public hearings and open houses, and a detailed environmental review.
Issued in the final weeks of the Clinton administration, the rule came under attack by logging and resource extraction interests, certain states, and the Bush administration.
“This is a great victory for the American people who have spoken out, time and again and in record numbers, for protection of these wild public lands,” said Mike Francis with The Wilderness Society.
“Roadless areas protect our rivers and streams – protect our salmon, trout, drinking water,” said Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council. “The Roadless Rule is common sense, and finally the question of its legality is settled.”
After being overturned in a lawsuit brought by the State of Wyoming, the rule was reinstated by a federal court in California in 2006.
In 2008, Wyoming sued the Forest Service for a second time to invalidate the Roadless Rule.
A Wyoming federal district court enjoined the Rule. Earthjustice and the Forest Service appealed that injunction to the 10th Circuit. The Tenth Circuit now joins the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in affirming the legality of the Roadless Rule.
In this appeal to the 10th Circuit, Earthjustice represented Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife.
The states of California, Oregon, and Washington submitted legal papers in support of the Roadless Rule and the conservation groups’ appeal.
“Roadless areas are valuable and irreplaceable places for hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, and families; they protect our water supplies; they provide room for wildlife to live and raise their young; and they will be increasingly important as safe havens for plants and animals in the face of rising temperatures and other impacts of climate change,” said Frances Hunt, director of the Sierra Club’s Resilient Habitats Campaign.
A roadless area on Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau (Photo © Nelson Guda courtesy Earthjustice)
“Roadless Areas represent the last of our wild and natural National Forest lands, providing multiple benefits including outstanding wildlife habitat, important supplies of clean water, and some of the best recreation lands in the country,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, Wyoming.
Lisa McGee of Wyoming Outdoor Council stressed the importance of this decision to her state. “The people of Wyoming love the outdoors – we’re hunters, fishermen, hikers, and campers – and roadless areas give us the best recreation anywhere. This decision ensures that our outdoor heritage will be safeguarded.”
Earthjustice has led the legal defense of the Roadless Rule since the first attacks under the Bush/Cheney administration. Against all odds, this critical legal work has kept the Roadless Rule alive and prevented destruction of the last great wild places in national forests.
Now, conservation, faith, and recreation groups are calling on the Obama administration to support and enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule as the law of the land, including defending its protections for all 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless lands across the country.
That includes national forests in Alaska, currently subject to a separate legal challenge and national forests in Idaho, whose roadless area protections were weakened in 2008.
As a candidate, President Obama answered a League of Conservation Voters questionaire, saying, “Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule – which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input – protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.”