A federal appeals court Wednesday blocked road construction in at least 40 million acres of national forests, including about 2 million acres in Washington state and 2 million acres in Oregon.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates most of a 2001 rule put in place by President Clinton just before he left office. That rule prohibited commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forest in 38 states and Puerto Rico. A subsequent Bush-administration rule had cleared the way for more commercial activity on those lands.
The latest ruling, issued in San Francisco, sides with several Western states, including Washington, and environmental groups that had sued the U.S. Forest Service after it reversed the so-called "Roadless Rule" in 2005.
But it is not the final word on roadless forests.
A separate case is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where environmental groups are appealing a district-court decision in Wyoming repealing the Clinton roadless rule.
"We're not out of the woods yet. ... But we are confident that the Wyoming decision will be reversed," said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst with The Wilderness Society in Seattle.
The 9th Circuit decision "halts the Bush-administration assault on roadless areas, but the Obama administration must now take the next steps necessary to make protection permanent and nationwide," he said.