Idaho & Colorado Roadless Plans Avoid Legal Shake-Up

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Editorial by Adena Cook,
Senior Policy Advisor

The controversy over national forest roadless management rose to new levels August 12 when the U.S. District Court in Wyoming struck down the 2001 Roadless Rule. The court found that the rule was promulgated in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act, and permanently enjoined its implementation system-wide.

The 2001 Roadless Rule, rushed through at the end of the Clinton administration, banned road building and active management on 58.5 million acres except under rare circumstances. Because of this, rural communities next to roadless areas are now at risk of destruction from catastrophic wildfire. They have not been allowed to clear away dead and dying forests that surround them.

When the 2001 rule was announced, lawsuits quickly followed, first in Idaho where the rule was enjoined. It was revived upon appeal in the 9th Circuit in 2002. Then, another lawsuit was filed against the rule, landing before Judge Clarence Brimmer in Wyoming. He declared it illegal and enjoined its implementation in 2003.

This ruling was appealed by preservationist groups in the 10th Circuit and was pending when, in 2005, the Department of Agriculture adopted the State Petitions Rule. Under that rule, roadless area management reverted back to individual forest plans. States were given the option of petitioning to the department for a roadless rule tailored specifically for the needs and wishes of that state in cooperation with the Forest Service. Subsequently, the 10th Circuit appeal was declared moot, and Brimmer's opinion was vacated.

Predictably, the State Petitions Rule was litigated. A magistrate judge in California ruled against it in 2006, enjoined its implementation and reinstated the 2001 Roadless Rule as the plaintiffs requested. Although the judge reinstated the rule, she was not asked and did not purport to rule on its merits.

Those states who had submitted petitions were invited by U.S. Department of Agriculture to resubmit under the Administrative Procedures Act, which provides a federal rule petitioning process for anyone. Idaho and Colorado chose to proceed.

The reinstatement of the 2001 Roadless Rule paved the way for Wyoming's lawsuit to be reinitiated. Brimmer found against the rule and permanently enjoined its implementation a second time, exhaustively examining and critiquing its merits. This aging controversy could eventually wind up in front of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, national forest roadless management continues to be on shaky ground. While managers are free to follow forest plans, many meaningful proposals are likely to be litigated. This is true everywhere, except Idaho and Colorado.

The state and federal cooperative rulemaking that is proceeding in these states will provide management certainty for more than 13 million acres of Roadless areas. These rules will protect the resource while prescribing beneficial active management. Uncertainty will continue elsewhere.

--Questions or comments regarding this article should be directed to the BlueRibbon Coalition: Phone: 208-237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: .

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