The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today announced that it would rehear a case challenging the Tongass exemption from the Roadless Rule, a landmark conservation rule adopted in 2001 to protect nearly 60 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building and logging. The court granted a rehearing “en banc,” which means that the court will reconsider the case before a new 11-judge panel.
This case originated in 2009 when a diverse coalition of Alaska Native, tourism industry, and environmental organizations, represented by attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, challenged the Bush Administration’s 2003 rule “temporarily” exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. The Tongass—occupying most of Southeast Alaska—is the nation’s largest and wildest national forest. In 2011, a federal judge in Alaska ruled in the coalition’s favor, vacating the Tongass exemption and reinstating the Roadless Rule’s application to the Tongass. The State of Alaska then appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a 3-judge panel earlier this year reversed the Alaska judge’s opinion by a 2–1 split vote. Today’s order granting the “en banc” rehearing renders the earlier opinion ineffective.
The court has scheduled oral arguments to be presented before the 11-judge panel in Pasadena, California, the week of Dec. 15, 2014.
Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represent the following groups in the case: Organized Village of Kake, The Boat Company, Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Cascadia Wildlands, and Sierra Club.
The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo: “Today’s court order is great news for Southeast Alaska and for all those who visit this spectacular place. The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important wildlife habitat and vital to local residents for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the local economy. The grant of rehearing ensures that those places will remain protected pending court review and provides a welcome opportunity for review of the prior decision.”
The following is a statement from Daven Hafey, Communications Director for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council: "In Southeast Alaska, Tongass roadless areas are really ‘the store outside our door,’ providing key habitat for the deer and salmon that fill our freezers. Today's development is great news for fishermen, hunters, and the millions of visitors who come to experience the wild Tongass every year."