The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today ended a challenge by the state of Alaska against a nationwide Clinton-era rule protecting tens of millions of acres of roadless forest lands from logging and road building.
The Alaska case was the final litigation challenging the rule nationwide. The court held that no further challenges are allowed, because the statute of limitations has run out.
Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo said, “This is a complete victory for the Roadless Rule. It means that it’s too late not only for the state of Alaska, but for anyone to file lawsuits against the rule, which has withstood every legal challenge. The Forest Service adopted it with overwhelming public support. It is important for clean water, fish, wildlife and recreation in the remaining intact areas of the national forests. American families cherish these places for camping, hiking, fishing, boating, hunting and all kinds of other recreation. The Roadless Rule ensures they will be available for generations to come.”
The court dismissed the state’s lawsuit for being filed after the six-year statute of limitations. Conservation groups who helped galvanize a citizens’ campaign in the late 1990s to protect America’s last wild national forest lands breathed a sigh of relief after more than a decade of legal challenges.
The State of Alaska’s case, though focused on state issues, sought to strike down the Roadless Rule nationwide. The federal government defended the rule with conservation groups allowed into the case as intervenors. On the side of Alaska, industry-aligned interests also intervened.
Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal on a similar lawsuit brought by the State of Wyoming and a mining industry group from Colorado.
The 2001 Roadless Rule prohibits new road construction and logging on large undeveloped areas of national forest land across the U.S. that includes parts of the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska.
The Department of Justice and the conservation group intervenors filed motions to dismiss the Alaska case, arguing the state missed the statute of limitations. Attorneys for Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) represented the conservation groups.
In the intervention, Earthjustice and NRDC represented: Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Center for the Environment, The Boat Company, NRDC, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Tongass Conservation Society, Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace.