Beginning of the end of attempts to eliminate roadless rule?

Aug 13, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration today filed a legal appeal in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado that could mark a pivotal moment in the more than eight-year effort to protect some 58 million acres of pristine national forests. The move is a response to the 2006 ruling by a federal district court judge in Wyoming who invalidated the popular 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

“This is a very positive exciting development because a favorable ruling in the 10th Circuit would end the legal assault on 40 million acres of our roadless forests,” said Mike Anderson, a Seattle-based attorney and senior resource analyst for The Wilderness Society. “The American people have stood up for protecting these forests time and time again, opposing every effort by the Bush administration and timber industry lobbyists to knock them down. Having the Obama administration on our side in this important case adds to our optimism that the 10th Circuit will dispel any further doubts about the legality of the 2001 rule.”

Anderson also commended President Obama and his administration for instructing the Department of Justice to appeal the 2006 ruling.

“President Obama has repeatedly made good on his campaign promises to protect our undeveloped national forests,” Anderson said. “He clearly recognizes that roadless forests play a vital role in providing recreational opportunities for people, protecting habitat for wildlife, and providing a defense against global warming.”

Roadless forests have been on a hot streak this year. Last May, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued an interim directive that requires his approval of any potentially destructive road building or mining projects on roadless forests. On Aug. 5, The Wilderness Society and 19 other environmental organizations, along with four western states, notched a huge victory when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco affirmed protection for almost 40 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development.

The fate of the roadless rule has been caught up in the federal courts and the politics of changing presidents for almost a decade. The Clinton administration originally adopted the rule after an environmental review that included 600 public hearings and over 1.6 million public comments; however, the Bush administration actively colluded to get rid of it. Despite these efforts, and due to deep public support for roadless area protection, only seven miles of roads were built and 535 acres of trees logged in roadless areas since 2001.