Roadless forests win! Court reinstates most of national rule opposed by Bush, timber lobby

Coconino National Forest. Photo by Steve Holmer.

Success in life is often the result of stringing together a few good days getting momentum on your side. Thanks to a court decision released today, America’s roadless forests are on a roll.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration improperly instituted what’s known as the State Petitions Rule — a move designed to neuter the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protecting some 58 million acres of pristine national forests by allowing individual states the option of implementing their own rules protecting far fewer acres. The court agreed with assertions made by The Wilderness Society and a host of other organizations that the petitions rule was misguided and that the Forest Service didn’t consider the impact of the move on the environment. This means the 2001 rule is now back in effect nationwide except on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and on national forests in Idaho.

The Forest Service’s attempts “ repeal nationwide protections of the Roadless Rule and to invite States to pursue varying rules for roadless area management was unreasonable,” the court wrote. “It was likewise unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environment, listed species, and their critical habitats would be unaffected by this regulatory change.”

The court’s decision reinstates the most popular environmental rule of all time. It marks a virtual end to the Bush administration’s attacks on the 2001 Roadless Rule. It also frees this administration to pursue President Obama’s pledge to “support and defend” the 2001 rule.

The next step for Obama would be to help our national forests win the next major court battle: Although the Ninth Circuit decision is a huge step toward ending the various legal proceedings involving our roadless forests, President Obama should now instruct the Department of Justice to appeal a suit sitting in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where another Bush hold-over effort seeks to nullify the entire 2001 roadless rule.

Despite eight years of Bush attacks, the 2001 rule is the law of the land...except in Idaho, the Tongass and in the minds of the timber lobby.