Earthjustice Legal Defense intervened today against Boise Cascade's lawsuit challenging the U.S. Forest Service's roadless area protection initiative. The action was taken on behalf of American Lands Alliance, Idaho Conservation League, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.
"The Forest Service's roadless area initiative is an historic opportunity for us to protect the last remnants of the magnificent natural legacy that we have inherited from the time of Lewis and Clark," said Craig Gehrke of The Wilderness Society, one of the conservation groups seeking to intervene in the suit. "If Boise Cascade has concerns, it should be participating in the framing of this initiative, not filing lawsuits to stop it."
Boise Cascade's lawsuit, filed in federal District Court in Idaho, asks the Court to halt the Forest Service's ongoing process to develop a plan for protecting national forest roadless areas. The Forest Service is currently taking public comments on how to protect national forest roadless areas, which account for approximately 54 million acres of the 191-million-acre national forest system. There are approximately 9 million acres of national forest roadless lands in Idaho. Roadless areas provide clean water, pristine wildlife habitat for species such as eagles, wolves, and grizzly bears, and abundant opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and hunting. The scope of the Forest Service's new roadless plan, and the protections that it would afford to roadless areas, have yet to be determined.
Last year, a temporary roadbuilding moratorium approved by the Forest Service was challenged in federal District Court in Wyoming by the Wyoming Timber Industry Association, but that challenge was dismissed in January 2000 at the requests of conservationists and the government. The second case challenging the Forest Service's efforts to protect roadless areas was brought by the State of Idaho. The State's lawsuit was dismissed in February, 2000.
In the third roadless-area lawsuit, Boise Cascade, Boise and Valley Counties of Idaho, the Little Cattle Company Limited Partnership, and the Highland Livestock and Land Company sued the Forest Service claiming that the Service had prematurely implemented roadless area protections that illegally cut off access rights to private lands and historic rights-of-way.
"Boise Cascade apparently believes that the third time is a charm. But when you look at their allegations, it looks more like a case of 'three strikes and you're out,'" said John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League, another group taking on the international timber corporation. "Since the Forest Service hasn't even issued a draft plan for roadless area management, Boise Cascade's charge that the Forest Service is already implementing roadless area protections is preposterous. No rights of access have been impaired and the Forest Service has even tried to log some of the remaining roadless areas."
McCarthy referred to a proposal issued by the Boise National Forest in January 2000 that calls for logging more than 4,000 acres of two roadless areas.
Boise Cascade and the other plaintiffs also claim that conservationists violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a federal law designed to regulate the activities of organized advisory boards.
"Boise Cascade is complaining about conservation groups lobbying the Forest Service to protect roadless areas," said Mike Medberry of the American Lands Alliance. "What happened to our rights to free speech and to petition our government? After logging our forests, Boise Cascade wants to cut down our First Amendment rights."
In October 1999, the Forest Service released notice of its intent to create a new rule governing roadless area management. Since then, the agency has conducted hundreds of meetings about the proposal and received thousands of public comments. The Forest Service is continuing to take public comments on the proposal even as it prepares a draft plan for public consideration later this spring. After announcement of the draft plan, the Forest Service will begin another round of public comment before determining a final plan sometime next fall.
"Instead of taking its concerns to the Forest Service – where they belong – Boise Cascade is asking a judge to derail the public comment process," said Tim Preso of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the conservation groups. "Boise Cascade has the right to comment on whatever roadless policy the Forest Service develops, just like every concerned citizen. Boise Cascade is not above the law."