Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Clinton-era Rule Protecting Forests Upheld

In a victory for environmentalists, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, reaffirmed a lower court decision to strike down the Bush Administration’s policy toward roads in national forests.

The “roadless rule,” approved in 2001 during the waning days of the Clinton administration, substantially limited road development in national forest lands. The Bush Administration effectively replaced it with another policy that allowed states to establish their own rules on roads in forests.

The appeals court ruling upholds a 2006 decision by a district court that threw out the Bush policy and reinstated the Clinton one. (Read the full opinion here.)

“The appellate court has affirmed that the roadless rule protections are back in place, and Americans who supported this rule more than any environmental regulation ever are delighted today because the roadless rule protects these last pristine, public lands from development,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group involved in the case.

Ms. Boyles said that Wednesday’s ruling affects about 40 million acres.

The legal battle, however, is far from over. “There’s still a lot of questions about what it means,” said Tom Troxel, the director of the Intermountain Forest Association, a trade group for forest products companies in the West.

Mr. Troxel noted that a 2008 federal district court judge in Wyoming hadinvalidated the Clinton-era rule, citing its violation of two environmental statutes.

Those two parallel court processes — in the Ninth Circuit and in Wyoming — seem headed for a clash. Environmentalists are appealing the Wyoming decision to the Tenth Circuit, which has not yet ruled.

In the meantime, Idaho has crafted its own rule for roads on forest lands, which are not to some environmentalists’ liking. Colorado is also working on a rule, and Tongass National Forest in Alaska is exempt from the original Clinton policy.

“What Colorado and Idaho have done would really be the gold standard on trying to fit this to the local conditions,” said Mr. Troxel.

Overall, added Mr. Troxel, “This is a long and twisted road, so to speak, that we’ve traveled.”

(Article courtesy of The New York Times)

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