Legal Status of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service on January 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. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Rule’s legality in 2002, but a Wyoming district ruled otherwise a year later. In December 2003, the Bush Administration amended the Rule by temporarily exempting Alaska’s Tongass National Forest pursuant to a settlement with the State of Alaska. In May 2005, the Administration repealed the Roadless Rule and replaced it with a State petition process. However, in September 2006, a federal district court in California invalidated the Bush Administration’s action and reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule nationwide, except in the Tongass. In August 2008, the Wyoming district court again invalidated the Roadless Rule and issued a nationwide injunction, which has been appealed to the Tenth Circuit. In October 2008, the Administration adopted a separate roadless rule for the state of Idaho. On May 28, 2009, the Obama Administration issued a one-year interim directive prohibiting the Forest Service from authorizing any road-building or logging projects in roadless areas without approval of the Secretary of Agriculture, except in Idaho. On August 5, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the California district court decision invalidating the Bush Administration’s rule and reinstating the 2001 Roadless Rule.

Currently, the 2001 Roadless Rule is in effect nationwide except in Idaho and in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Thus, the Forest Service may not undertake activities that violate the Roadless Rule on 40 million out of the 58.5 million total acres of inventoried roadless areas. Roadless area projects in the Tongass National Forest are subject to approval by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Key unresolved issues:

  • Will the 10th circuit reverse or affirm the Wyoming court decision?
  • Will the Obama Administration continue the temporary exemption of the Tongass?
  • Will the Administration finalize a Colorado rule?
  • Will the Idaho rule stand up in court?

View the legal status of the Roadless Rule.

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