SAN FRANCISCO, California - Nearly 40
million acres of roadless national forests are again protected from new
road building, logging, and development by a decision today of the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstating the Roadless Area
The decision came in a case brought by four states and 20
environmental organizations against the Bush-era U.S. Forest Service
rule that required state governors to petition the federal government
for protection of roadless areas on national forests in their states.
Known as the State Petitions Rule, its purpose was to overturn
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001 promulgated by the U.S.
Forest Service just eight days before the end of the Clinton
Upholding a lower court ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
today issued a permanent injunction against the State Petitions Rule
deciding that "the Forest Service violated the National Environmental
Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act."
"The Forest Service's use of a categorical exemption to repeal
the nationwide protections of the Roadless Rule and to invite states to
pursue varying rules for roadless area management was unreasonable. 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 appellate court ruled.
The three judge panel explained that the Bush rule it struck down,
"had the effect of permanently repealing uniform, nationwide,
substantive protections that were afforded to inventoried roadless
areas, and replacing them with a regime of the type the agency had
rejected as inadequate a few years earlier."
The court repeated its earlier finding that "there can be no doubt that
the 58.5 million acres subject to the Roadless Rule, if implemented,
would have greater protection if the Roadless Rule stands."
The 2001 rule has, the court emphasized, "immeasurable benefits from a conservationist standpoint."
Michael Francis, The Wilderness Society's national forest program
director in Washington, DC, called the decision "a huge victory."
"The court's decision reinstates the most popular environmental
rule of all time," said Francis. "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. We trust the President will welcome the ruling
as much as we do."
There are 58.5 million acres of national forest lands identified as "inventoried roadless areas" that are largely undeveloped.
Today's ruling covers these areas minus 50 million acres in
Alaska's Tongass National Forest and nine million acres in Idaho's
national forests - each now covered by a separate rule.
Both the Alaska and the Idaho rules are being challenged in court by environmental organizations.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Mike Anderson, a senior
resource analyst with The Wilderness Society in Seattle. "This decision
halts the Bush administration assault on roadless areas, but the Obama
administration must now take the next steps necessary to make
protection permanent and nationwide."
Another legal challenge to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is pending before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In August 2008, U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Wyoming
for the second time issued a permanent injunction against the original
rule, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the
Environmental groups are appealing Judge Brimmer's decision and
are urging President Obama to instruct the Department of Justice to
also file an appeal. The Obama administration has until August 18 to
make that decision.
"We will continue our appeal in any case," said Kristen Boyles,
an attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm
representing the environmental plaintiffs in the case decided today,
and also in the Wyoming court battle.
"Americans love the wild forests and rivers our country has been
blessed with," said Boyles. "From campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen,
and bird watchers to cities and towns that rely on clean, mountain-fed
drinking water, we all stand and cheer that the court today protected
our national roadless areas."
Despite the legal wrangling over the roadless rule, to date
only seven miles of roads have been built and 535 acres of trees logged
in roadless areas since 2001.
Environmentalists say that a proposed state-specific roadless rule pending in Colorado now is not needed.
"Coloradans overwhelmingly supported the 2001 national rule and
welcome its reinstatement with open arms," said Suzanne Jones, the
Colorado regional director for The Wilderness Society. "While one final
court challenge to the 2001 rule remains, there is no need for a
state-specific rule like the watered-down Colorado proposal that has
just been released for public comment."
"Today's ruling is a big win for all Americans because we all
value these lands for their clean water and air, quality outdoor
recreation and important habitat for wildlife," said Peter Nelson of
Defenders of Wildlife. "The Roadless Rule will help to keep these
forests strong in the face of global warming, ensuring that our
nation's forests continue to provide these benefits for generations to
In the challenge to the repeal of the roadless rule, Earthjustice
represented: Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, California Wilderness
Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation NW, Defenders
of Wildlife, Environmental Protection Information Center, Forests
Forever Foundation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Greenpeace, Humane
Society of the United States, Idaho Conservation League,
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, National Audubon Society, Northcoast
Environmental Center, Pacific Rivers Council, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club,
Sitka Conservation Society, Siskiyou Project, and The Wilderness
Society and joined with the states of California, New Mexico, Oregon