Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protects 49 million acres of national forests

Oct 21, 2011

Conservationists hail end to decade-long legal battle over Roadless Area Conservation Rule


America’s national forests are breathing a collective sigh of relief today after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that permanently protects some 49 million acres of forests covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The ruling should put an end to a decade-long legal battle waged by the timber industry, Bush administration and the states of Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming.

“The win in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is a great victory that validates the massive support of millions of Americans for protecting roadless forests and removes the clouds of legal uncertainty from this issue,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “This is a day for celebration for everyone who cherishes our roadless forests for their scenic beauty, clean water supplies, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.”

A study by the Forest Service shows that recreation activities on national forests and grasslands have helped to sustain an estimated 223,000 jobs in rural areas and contributed approximately $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. National forests also play a vital role in protecting supplies of clean drinking water -- holding the headwaters that provide drinking water to millions of people across the country. In addition, roadless forests preserve high-quality habitat for many kinds of fish and wildlife.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service on Jan. 12, 2001, after the most extensive public involvement in the history of federal rulemaking. The Roadless Rule generally prohibited road construction and timber cutting in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, covering about 30 percent of the National Forest System. Since then, the rule has been the subject of numerous legal challenges and administrative attacks seeking to reverse it and open the lands up to unneeded timber production and other destructive activities.

Currently, the 2001 Roadless Rule is in effect nationwide except in Idaho, where different regulations apply. Thus, the Forest Service may not undertake activities that violate the Roadless Rule on 49 million out of the 58.5 million total acres of inventoried roadless areas. A lawsuit by The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups challenging the Idaho exemption is pending in a federal appeals court.  The State of Alaska recently challenged the Roadless Rule in a lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia.

“The Tenth Circuit’s decision greatly helps to clarify and solidify the nationwide protections provided by the Roadless Rule,” said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst in The Wilderness Society’s Seattle office. “We still have a ways to go to restore protection for roadless areas in Idaho, which the Bush administration exempted from the rule. We will continue our efforts to ensure full protection of all roadless areas.”

Learn More:
Visit The Wilderness Society’s Web site to learn more about the history of the roadless rule. For a detailed chronology of the issue: http://wilderness.org/content/roadless-area-chronology. For a legal primer, visit: http://wilderness.org/content/legal-status-roadless-rule.