Roadless Rising

Obama and the courts back roadless areas. Mostly.

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We’ve seen considerable activity concerning national forest roadless areas in the past few weeks in case you missed it—most of it welcome.

Early this month, the federal appeals court upheld a district court ruling that found that the rule the Bush administration cooked up to replace the 2001 Roadless Rule was illegal, and therefore reinstated the 2001 rule. (The Bush rule invited governors to suggest how national forests in their states should be run. The 2001 rule forbids most road building and logging in roadless areas in national forests.)

Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service, under President Obama and Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, announced that it will appeal a ruling out of Wyoming, where a cantankerous federal judge found the 2001 rule illegal. Twice. Earthjustice has appealed that ruling, and now we’re joined by the administration.

This is a sharp break with recent history, where the federal government, now evidently an ally, had been an enemy. If the Denver court sides with us and the administration that should pretty much end the legal wrangling over the 2001 rule. If it sides with the Wyoming judge and the state of Wyoming (the plaintiff), we could be headed to the Supreme Court.

There still remains the thorny question of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which remains exempt from the 2001 rule but could be re-included, which we’re trying mightly to accomplish. Mr. Vilsack, to his discredit, has actually approved a roadless timber sale there, may it be the last.

Then there’s the matter of Idaho, which has an approved statewide plan and is also excluded from the 2001 rule for the moment. The Idaho rule has been challenged in court; we’ll see what happens there. And Colorado is still trying to get its own statewide rule approved.

So there’s still plenty of ferment, but most of the recent news is welcome indeed.

Tom Turner literally wrote the books about Earthjustice during his more-than-25 years with the organization. A lifelong resident of Berkeley, CA, he is most passionate about Earthjustice's maiden issue: wilderness preservation.