Another twist for roadless forests

With the drop of a gavel, the struggle to protect America’s roadless national forests shot back into the spotlight June 17, when U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer denied a request to reconsider his August 2008 injunction invalidating the 2001 “Roadless Rule.”

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted by the US Forest Service at the end of the Clinton Administration, aims to protect some 58.5 million acres of national forests designated as “roadless” from human development. However, the ink had barely dried on the Roadless Rule when it was plunged into a tangle of challenges, suspensions, exceptions, and conflicting court rulings.

It was formally repealed by the Bush Administration in 2005, but was subsequently reinstated by the Northern California federal district court. Then, two years later, Judge Brimmer in the Wyoming federal district court issued a nationwide injunction against the rule.

The existence of these two conflicting opinions has subsequently thrown much of the nation’s pristine roadless forest into a legal limbo.

Guided by President Obama’s strong support for the Roadless Rule, the federal government has begun to restore protection for roadless areas. The Obama Administration’s one year time-out on development in most roadless areas, announced May 29, is one such step.

Now the Administration has the opportunity to take another important step: appealing Judge Brimmer’s decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, have already filed an appeal, and we are urging the Administration to do likewise.

“While we’re disappointed that Judge Brimmer didn’t grant the administration’s request for relief, we’re glad to have this case finally move to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Michael Francis, deputy vice-president for The Wilderness Society.

“We are confident that the 10th Circuit will agree with us that Judge Brimmer’s ruling should be overruled. We hope the Obama Administration will join the conservation groups in asking the Court of Appeals to reinstate the Roadless Rule.”

photo: Salmon River Meadows, Oregon Roadless Area. Photo by Kristin Wille, Courtesy Oregon Natural Resources Council.