[env-trinity] Court Upholds Ban on Roads in NF

Patrick Truman truman at jeffnet.org
Thu Aug 6 12:02:11 PDT 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009 (SF Chronicle)
Court upholds ban on roads in national forests
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

   In a major victory for environmentalists, a federal appeals court upheld a
ban Wednesday on most new road-building in 40 million acres of national
forests and said the Bush administration's repeal of the so-called
roadless rule was illegal.
   The decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco
restores a regulation passed in the final days of President Bill Clinton's
administration, in January 2001, designed to protect trees and resources
in remote forest areas by prohibiting construction of new roads as well as
   The fate of the roadless rule is still unsettled, as a judge has declared
the Clinton regulation invalid in a suit by the state of Wyoming, now
pending before a federal appeals court in Denver. The Ninth Circuit court
did not discuss the potential impact of that case Wednesday.
   But in contrast to the Bush administration, which argued against the
roadless rule in court, President Obama's administration praised the court
for reinstating the rule.
   "The Obama administration supports conservation of roadless areas in our
national forests and this decision today reaffirms the protection of those
resources," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
   While the case was pending, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in May that he would personally approve or veto all road-building and logging plans in roadless forest areas for the next year.
   Clinton's regulation contained some exemptions for emergencies, such as
areas damaged by fires, but it was opposed by timber companies and groups of off-road vehicle users. In May 2001, before the rule was to take
effect, President George W. Bush's administration suspended it and said
each state would be allowed to propose its own roadless plan, subject to
federal approval, with no nationwide prohibition on road-building.
   The Bush regulation took effect in May 2005 and was halted by a federal
magistrate in September 2006. The administration did not approve any state
plans during that period, but allowed logging on 535 acres of previously
roadless forest land in Oregon and permitted some oil and gas leases in
Rocky Mountain states that the Clinton rule would have prevented, said
Kristen Boyles, a lawyer for environmental groups in the case.
   In October, under separate legal authority, the Bush administration
approved Idaho's plan for 9 million acres that allowed new road-building
in some areas. Boyles said road-building is also permitted in Alaska's
Tongass National Forest, with nearly 10 million acres, under a 2003
settlement of a suit by the state of Alaska against the federal
   In Wednesday's ruling, the appeals court upheld U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte's 2006 decision that the Bush administration's state-by-state rule was invalid because the government had not studied its impact on the forests, endangered species or their habitat.
   The ruling applies nationwide, except for Idaho and the Tongass forest,
which were removed from the case after the Bush administration approved
their individual road-restriction plans. The magistrate's decision had
been limited to a group of Western states.
   Wednesday's ruling "turns back an assault on areas that we value as
national treasures ... pristine areas of public forests, where people
spoke out about how they wanted to preserve hiking and hunting and fishing
and bird-watching," said attorney Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice, which
represented numerous environmental groups in the case. They were joined by California, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming in support of the Clinton rule.
   A timber industry group expressed disappointment.
   The Bush administration's state-by-state planning process "lets the people
who are most impacted have a say in the disposition of those lands,"
rather than subjecting them to "blanket policies coming out of the
government," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource
Council, which represents nearly 100 forest products companies.
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