Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Judge restores Clinton roadless rule

Earthjustice released this information about the court's ruling:
Earthjustice press release

A federal district court today ordered reinstatement of the Clinton era roadless rule to protect almost 50 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from road building, logging, and development. The court order is a stunning victory for all Americans who value America's great natural areas and reverses the Bush administration's efforts to open these last great natural areas to development interests.

According to the Court, "Defendants are enjoined from taking any further action contrary to the Roadless Rule without undertaking environmental analysis consistent with this opinion." The Court noted that in adopting the Rule which the Court reinstated today, the Forest Service itself found that the Rule was "necessary to protect the social and ecological values and characteristics of . . . roadless areas from road construction . . . and timber harvesting activities. . . . Adoption of [the Roadless Rule] ensures that inventoried roadless areas will be managed in a manner that sustains their values now and for future generations."

The Court found that in repealing the roadless rule, the Bush administration failed to comply with basic legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act: "this Court concludes that the Forest Service failed adequately to consider the environmental and species impacts when it [repealed the Roadless Rule] in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act."

The Court continued: "to conclude that a regulation that effects a major change in the way roadless areas in national forests are regulated nationwide from the prior regulation that it replaces does not constitute a repeal with potentially significant environmental effects would ignore reality."

"Americans love the great natural areas our country has been blessed with," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. "From hunters, hikers, fishermen, and bird watchers, to cities and towns that rely on clean, mountain-fed drinking water, the last great roadless natural areas in our national forests deserve preservation. As America grows, so does the need to preserve these natural areas – because they're not making these kind of natural areas anymore."

Conservation groups, represented by a team of Earthjustice attorneys, brought the legal challenge to the Bush administration policies, joining parallel efforts by four states which brought a separate but similar challenge to the Bush administration plan.

"The sad fact is that the Bush administration gave a timber industry lobbyist a high White House appointment and put him in charge of reversing the government's policy to protect our last great roadless natural areas," said Boyles of Earthjustice. "They made these changes in a flatly illegal way and the Court caught them."

The 2005 Bush administration roadless repeal, adopted with no environmental analysis and limited public input, replaced a Clinton era rule adopted in January 2001 after a three-year process that included 600 public hearings and 1.6 million public comments. In addition to repealing the roadless rule, the Bush rule invited governors to submit petitions recommending management schemes for the national forests in their states. Five states (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Mexico, California) have lodged such petitions, and all have called for protection for all roadless areas in their states. Other states, including Oregon and Colorado, are facing Bush administration plans to log or develop oil and gas in roadless areas.

Today's ruling doesn't address the roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. In 2003, the Bush administration exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule in a separate procedure. The exemption made little sense then and even less now. About five million acres in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska are once again protected by today's ruling.

Link: Portland, OR; KOIN.com - Federal Wilderness Road-Building Plans Blocked.

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge has overturned the Bush administration's attempts to allow new road construction in protected, roadless areas of national forests.

The ruling revives a Clinton-area ban on new roads in untouched wilderness. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte sides with states and environmentalists who sued the U.S. Forest Service after it reversed Clinton's so-called "Roadless Rule".

That ruling prohibited new logging, mining and other development on nearly 60 million acres of forest land in 38 states and Puerto Rico. Two million of those acres are in Oregon.

In May 2005, the Bush administration replaced Clinton's "Roadless Rule" by giving states' governors the right to petition that land be kept pristine and roadless. However, the federal government could ignore those petitions. And some governors favored new road-building. That's the case in Idaho, where plans for new roads and wilderness mining and logging are now in a state of legal limbo. Lawyers for both developers and environmentalists want to study Wednesday's ruling, and wait for word of a possible appeal.

Many consider that appeal, by the federal government, as likely. An appeals process through the federal court system could take years.

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