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Roadless Rule Withstands a "Supreme" Test

PHOTO: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.  Courtesy of the USDA Forest Service.
PHOTO: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Courtesy of the USDA Forest Service.
October 2, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - After a decade of legal challenges, the "roadless rule" landed on the U.S. Supreme Court's doorstep, and on Monday the court opted to leave it in place rather than hear the latest appeal. The rule doesn't allow new road-building on millions of acres of national forest land in three dozen states, including Utah. The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association were the latest to cite missed economic opportunities for mining, logging and energy development.

The decision not to hear their appeal is a victory in the conservation community, says Mike Anderson, senior resource analyst with The Wilderness Society.

"It's been up and down in the courts, in different circuits, but this really does put a great deal of certainty into the legality of the roadless rule's protections."

The roadless rule was the last major policy put into place by President Clinton before he left office in early 2001.

Anderson points out that some mining and motorized vehicle use is allowed in roadless areas. About half of the Forest Service-managed land in Utah is covered by the rule.

Conservation and recreation are not the only reasons the Forest Service wants to curtail road-building, according to attorney Kristin Boyles with Earthjustice. She says the agency has budgetary reasons as well.

"They also looked at the cost of roads and road maintenance and thought, the agency just cannot continue to build roads, because they had so much economic backlog from having the roads that were already there."

Boyles says the roadless rule has wide-ranging benefits for the environment.

"This rule protects habitat for wildlife; it protects streams and rivers that provide clean water for many, many communities. It is places where families camp and hike, and hunt and fish. This means they won't be developed, or, at least, roads won't be put in them."

The Ninth and Tenth Circuit Courts had already struck down challenges to the roadless rule. There's one more court case still pending, by the state of Alaska.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT