Chest bump to the Tenth Circuit, chest bump to the 2001 roadless rule. The biggest remaining swath of unprotected wild America is now, finally, protected.
The appeals court reinstated the rule, which blocks logging and road construction on 49 million acres of public forests. In a mammoth 120 page opinion, the court overturned a Wyoming federal court’s decision in 2008 that the rule illegally usurped congressional power to designate wilderness.The decision resolves a federal court split, but raises questions about Colorado’s proposed state-specific approach to managing national forests.
Clinton famously passed the rule in final hours of his administration, and the Bush administration spent eight years trying to unpass it. Hundreds of communities around the country get their water from roadless areas. Roadless forests are a source of clean water. They are often where our imperiled wildlife clings for survival. And, they are where millions of people go to recreate and experience wild country.
Colorado officials, you can be sure, are reviewing the decision carefully. Nothing in the decision appears to prohibit state-specific rules for protecting national forests. And Colorado natural resources officials have developed their own, nuanced, tiered-protection plan for protecting 4.2 million acres of roadless national forest in the state.
It would protect only about 13 percent of the 4.4 million acres of national forest in Colorado protected by the national rule. The Colorado proposal would make exceptions for mining, logging and ski-area expansion.
Today’s federal appeals court decision “does not preclude further litigation, which could continue to create uncertainty,” King said.
State officials, he said, will keep working to finalize the state-specific rule.
If the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had backed the 2008 Wyoming federal court’s ruling, federal land managers’ power to prevent logging and road-building would have been limited.
Attorneys for Wyoming and Colorado Mining Association argued that the Forest Service was trying to create de facto wilderness areas. The Wyoming court agreed with them, saying the roadless rule violated the 1964 Wilderness Act that requires congressional actions to create wilderness.
But the federal appeals judges reversed that, finding that the Wyoming court abused judicial discretion.
Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said the industry is “disappointed with the ruling” and is “carefully evaluating next steps.” The decision “does not reflect a practical understanding of the impact that the Clinton Rule will have upon mining jobs in Colorado and the United States,” Sanderson said.
Practically speaking, without the roadless rule, protection of these national forests would be left to a patchwork management system that in the past resulted in millions of acres lost to logging, drilling and other industrial development. When Clinton officials in 2001 issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, it was designed to protect nearly 60 million acres, or about a third of the undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands.
Bush administration officials in 2005 tried to replace that rule with a state-based approach to managing forests.
In 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California upheld a lower court decision to reinstate the roadless rule for the majority of roadless areas. Obama administration officials then expressed support for a national rule and asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the national rule.