The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, issued just a few days before the end of the Clinton administration, protected 58.5 million acres of America's pristine roadless national forest lands from new road building and timber harvesting.
The appeal filed today is a response to the 2008 ruling by a federal district court judge in Wyoming, who invalidated the roadless rule nationwide. Judge Clarence Brimmer issued a permanent injunction against the rule, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act.
Judge Brimmer's order already has been appealed by environmental groups. Now, the federal government, a defendant in the case brought by the State of Wyoming, is also appealing it.
The Wyoming case is the last gasp of a decade of litigation by conservation groups and states seeking either to protect or to harvest the roadless national forest lands.
Last week, in a lawsuit brought by 20 environmental groups and four states, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the original Clinton-era roadless rule across the country.
That decision overturned a Bush-era U.S. Forest Service rule that required governors to petition the federal government for protection of roadless areas on national forests in their states.
Proposed coalbed methane wellpad in a stand of old-growth ponderosa pine, HD Mountains Roadless Area of Colorado. (Photo by Mudspringcreek)
The 58.5 million acres originally protected under the roadless rule have now shrunk to 40 million acres.
About nine million acres of roadless lands in Alaska's Tongass National Forest were withdrawn under a temporary rule crafted by the Bush administration in 2003. Another nine million acres later were withdrawn when the state of Idaho wrote its own roadless rule.
"This is a very positive exciting development because a favorable ruling in the Tenth Circuit would end the legal assault on 40 million acres of our roadless forests," said Mike Anderson, a Seattle attorney and senior resource analyst for The Wilderness Society.
"The American people have stood up for protecting these forests time and time again, opposing every effort by the Bush administration and timber industry lobbyists to knock them down," he said. "Having the Obama administration on our side in this important case adds to our optimism that the Tenth Circuit will dispel any further doubts about the legality of the 2001 rule."
Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell said, "The roadless areas in our national forests are the last, best natural areas in America and deserve protection. We welcome the Obama administration to the effort to protect these areas. We hope the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will agree that the Wyoming ruling blocking the roadless rule was wrong.
"The Obama administration is honoring its commitment to uphold and defend nationwide roadless area protections," said Angell.
"President Obama has repeatedly made good on his campaign promises to protect our undeveloped national forests," said Anderson. "He clearly recognizes that roadless forests play a vital role in providing recreational opportunities for people, protecting habitat for wildlife, and providing a defense against global warming."
The Obama administration already has been protective of roadless areas. Last May, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued an interim directive that requires his approval of any potentially destructive road building or mining projects on roadless forests.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.