Decision climaxes 13-year legal struggle by Earthjustice
Meadows and ponds abound in a roadless area in Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau. (© Nelson Guda, 2009 / nelsonguda.com)
<In a major victory for Earthjustice and its supporters, today the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated The Roadless Rule, which protects nearly 50 million acres of National Forest lands against exploitation. Tom Turner, who literally wrote the book ("Roadless Rules") on the case, provides some background here.>
Toward the end of the Clinton administration, the Forest Service declared that most logging and road building no longer would be permitted on nearly 60 million acres of wild, unprotected national forest lands.
The so-called Roadless Area Conservation Rule was immediately challenged in nine separate lawsuits filed by states (Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, Utah, North Dakota), a few counties, and several timber industry interests.
Earthjustice immediately moved to defend the rule in all those cases, eventually devoting thousands of hours by many attorneys to the effort. Many major national groups became involved, along with statewide groups. The Natural Resources Defense Council was a key ally in Alaska.
The first ruling, out of Idaho, was a setback. The Rule was ruled illegal. With tenacious lawyering, that ruling was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Next, a judge in Wyoming also ruled the rule illegal.
Meanwhile, the Bush Forest Service joined with the state of Alaska in exempting the Tongass National Forest in the Alaska panhandle—the wildest and largest forest on the system, by far—from the rule.
The legal maneuvering was fast and furious for a decade. At one point the Bush administration replaced the original rule with one that would effectively turn over management of the national forests to the governors of the states the forests are in. Earthjustice made quick work of that ploy, getting it tossed promptly. Last spring, the Tongass Exemption was tossed as well.
Today's news is that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has just ruled that an injunction blocking the rule—at least trying to block the rule—issued by a judge in Wyoming, cannot stand and is overturned. The ruling was unanimous, which should help it stand.
There remains a little cleanup work in Alaska and Idaho, but it's looking very good for the forests.
If you want to explore the intricate background of all this check out Roadless Rules: The Struggle for the Last Wild Forests, published by Island Press, now happily out of date.
It is this sort of news that makes one proud to work with an outfit like Earthjustice. Not only does it have brilliant, energetic, and dedicated attorneys, it has the persistence to stick with a matter like this that can last a decade or more. I'd like to publicly recognize and thank the legal team that has, with yeoman effort, done so much for our national forests: Kristen Boyles, Jim Angell, Tim Preso, Doug Honnold, Todd True, and Tom Waldo.
There's mostly bad news in the headlines these days; this is most definitely of the other kind.
Learn more about this landmark victory for our national forests in the web feature, Major Victory Secures Roadless Rule, and explore the diverse wildlife and wild lands of roadless areas in a photo slideshow.
Winter comes to the South Siegel Roadless Area in Montana's Coeur D'Alene Mountains. (© Terry Glase)