In February 1999, the Forest Service imposed the moratorium in order to reevaluate its approach to managing the more than 373,000 miles of road that now criss-cross the National Forests. The Forest Service has been using this break to consider the mountain of evidence that its road system is the single-most cause of environmental damage on national forests and is a fiscal disaster.
The 18-month moratorium had been challenged in court by the Wyoming Timber Industry. In rejecting the timber industry's claims, Judge Brimmer upheld the Forest Service's authority to embark on a system-wide rule-making procedure. The Wyoming timber industry had claimed that the moratorium could only be adopted on a very repetitive, forest-by-forest basis for all 124 national forests.
"Rather than go through such a pointlessly repetitive exercise, the court ruled that the Chief of the Forest Service properly adopted the broad moratorium through an agency-wide rule," said Jim Angell of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
The District Court also ruled the timber industry lacked standing to raise these arguments.
"Fish, elk, and grizzly bears alike all benefit from the protection of our remaining roadless areas. Everyone who fishes, hunts or spends time in the backcountry should applaud Judge Brimmer's decision," Angell said.
"This court ruling vindicates the Forest Service decision to study roadless areas and their significant ecological and economic values," said Bob Ekey of the Wilderness Society. "This decision should silence any argument that what the Forest Service is doing is illegal."
The Forest Service decided to study the ecological and economic effects of protecting roadless areas from further intrusion after studies showed that there are 373,000 miles of logging roads on national forests – and that the agency only maintains 18 percent of existing roads.
Forest roads fragment wildlife habitat and cause erosion that silts pristine mountain streams, lowering water quality and damaging fish habitat. The agency called the 18-month "time out" on road building in roadless areas while it prepares a new policy addressing how roads will be built and maintained on national forest lands. Earlier this year, President Clinton announced another system-wide rule-making procedure that will study halting all new road construction in roadless areas.
Conservation groups intervening in the lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Cheyenne include: Wyoming Outdoor Council, Northwest Wyoming Resource Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Bighorn Forest Users Coalition, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Biodiversity Associates, Wyoming Wilderness Association, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, American Wildlands, American Lands Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Oregon Natural Resources Council, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.