This is reprinted from an email from WildSouth, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting wild areas in the Southeast.
Today is a day every friend of the wild can rejoice. After more than a decade, 50 million acres of our most pristine wild lands are secured as the "Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001" has been reinstated.
These so-called "roadless" areas represent the core of our nation's public lands and have survived untrammeled by man.
Let this be a reminder to all who work to defend the wild and for every person who supports conservation that:
“We need wilderness preserved -- as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds --because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives.It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there -- important, that is, simply as an idea.”
- Wallace Stegner
Federal Court Reinstates Roadless Rule
Landmark ruling on wild National Forest protections
October 21, 2011
Denver, CO — The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long-awaited, landmark decision today, securing critical legal protections for nearly 50 million acres of pristine National Forest lands. These forests offer outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, and hiking, produce clean water for thousands of communities nationwide, and provide irreplaceable habitat for imperiled wildlife species including grizzly bears, lynx, and Pacific salmon. The appellate court reversed a lower court decision and affirmed the validity of the Roadless Rule—a 2001 federal rule that protects wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development.
The appellate court ruled against the State of Wyoming and industry intervenors and in favor of conservation groups, the Forest Service, and the States of California, Oregon, and Washington. This decision formally ends an injunction against the Rule’s enforcement imposed by a Wyoming federal district court in 2008.
“The public forests we’ve fought so hard to protect are now safe,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjusticeattorney representing the conservation groups. “All Americans can now know that a key part of our nation’s natural heritage won’t be destroyed.”
The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of the most comprehensive rulemaking process in the nation’s history, including more than 2 million comments from members of the public, hundreds of public hearings and open houses, and a detailed environmental review. The rule came under relentless attack by logging and resource extraction interests, certain states, and the Bush administration
“This is a great victory for the American people who have spoken out, time and again and in record numbers, for protection of these wild public lands,” said Mike Francis with The Wilderness Society.
“Roadless areas protect our rivers and streams—protect our salmon, trout, drinking water,” said Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council. “The Roadless Rule is common-sense, and finally the question of its legality is settled.”
“Roadless areas are valuable and irreplaceable places for hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, and families; they protect our water supplies; they provide room for wildlife to live and raise their young; and they will be increasingly important as safe havens for plants and animals in the face of rising temperatures and other impacts of climate change,” said Frances Hunt, Director of the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats Campaign.
“Roadless Areas represent the last of our wild and natural National Forest lands, providing multiple benefits including outstanding wildlife habitat, important supplies of clean water, and some of the best recreation lands in the country," said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, Wyoming.
Lisa McGee of Wyoming Outdoor Council stressed the importance of this decision to her state. “The people of Wyoming love the outdoors—we’re hunters, fishermen, hikers, and campers—and roadless areas give us the best recreation anywhere. This decision ensures that our outdoor heritage will be safeguarded.”
Earthjustice has led the legal defense of the Roadless Rule since the first attacks under the Bush/Cheney administration. Against all odds, this critical legal work has kept the Roadless Rule alive and prevented destruction of our national forests’ last great wild places.
Now, conservation, faith, and recreation groups trust that the Obama administration will support and enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule as the law of the land, including defending its protections for all 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the country. That includes national forests in Alaska, currently subject to a separate legal challenge and national forests in Idaho, whose roadless area protections were weakened in 2008.
As a candidate, President Obama said:
“Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule—which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input—protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.”
- Sen. Barack Obama, LCV questionnaire
Background On Today’s Decision
In 2008, the State of Wyoming sued the Forest Service for a second time to invalidate the Roadless Rule (the rule had been reinstated by a federal court in California in 2006). A Wyoming federal district court enjoined the Rule; Earthjustice and the Forest Service appealed that injunction to the 10th Circuit. The 10th Circuit today joins the 9th Circuit in finding the Roadless Rule legal.
In this appeal to the 10th Circuit, Earthjustice represented Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. The States of California, Oregon, and Washington submitted legal papers in support of the Roadless Rule and the conservation groups’ appeal.
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protects 49 million acres of national forests
Conservationists hail end to decade-long legal battle over Roadless Area Conservation Rule
October 21, 2011
America’s national forests are breathing a collective sigh of relief today after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that permanently protects some 49 million acres of forests covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The ruling should put an end to a decade-long legal battle waged by the timber industry, Bush administration and the states of Alaska, Idaho and Wyoming.
“The win in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is a great victory that validates the massive support of millions of Americans for protecting roadless forests and removes the clouds of legal uncertainty from this issue,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “This is a day for celebration for everyone who cherishes our roadless forests for their scenic beauty, clean water supplies, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.”
A study by the Forest Service shows that recreation activities on national forests and grasslands have helped to sustain an estimated 223,000 jobs in rural areas and contributed approximately $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. National forests also play a vital role in protecting supplies of clean drinking water -- holding the headwaters that provide drinking water to millions of people across the country. In addition, roadless forests preserve high-quality habitat for many kinds of fish and wildlife.
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service on Jan. 12, 2001, after the most extensive public involvement in the history of federal rulemaking. The Roadless Rule generally prohibited road construction and timber cutting in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, covering about 30 percent of the National Forest System. Since then, the rule has been the subject of numerous legal challenges and administrative attacks seeking to reverse it and open the lands up to unneeded timber production and other destructive activities.
Currently, the 2001 Roadless Rule is in effect nationwide except in Idaho, where different regulations apply. Thus, the Forest Service may not undertake activities that violate the Roadless Rule on 49 million out of the 58.5 million total acres of inventoried roadless areas. A lawsuit by The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups challenging the Idaho exemption is pending in a federal appeals court. The State of Alaska recently challenged the Roadless Rule in a lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia.
"The Tenth Circuit’s decision greatly helps to clarify and solidify the nationwide protections provided by the Roadless Rule,” said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst in The Wilderness Society’s Seattle office. “We still have a ways to go to restore protection for roadless areas in Idaho, which the Bush administration exempted from the rule. We will continue our efforts to ensure full protection of all roadless areas.”