For Immediate Release, August 13, 2008
Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713
Court Ruling Threatens Protections for 58 Million Acres of Pristine Forest
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— A Wyoming federal district court late Tuesday blocked the federal government from enforcing a landmark rule that protects more than 58 million acres of pristine national forest land from development.
Judge William Brimmer’s decision against the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule attempts to remove protections for some 58.5 million acres of forest land to road-building, logging, mining, and oil- and gas-leasing. But today’s ruling directly conflicts with a 2006 ruling reinstating the rule by district court Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco. The conflicting rulings both have national implications.
“This ruling may create a legal quagmire for our last pristine forests,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Opening these areas for development would mire our nation’s last best wildlife habitat, recreational lands, and watersheds that provide clean water to millions of Americans.”
In response, plaintiff groups already have vowed to appeal.
Tuesday’s ruling is the latest in a series of court rulings enjoining, then reinstating the rule, which is widely regarded as among the most significant conservation programs ever undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service issued the rule in 2001, breaking from its history of industrial forest management. It protected roadless areas in 38 states, from the development and ecological degradation that plagues our national forest system today.
The 2001 rule resulted from the most extensive federal rule-making process in American history. In included more than 600 public hearings and more 1.6 million public comments. To date, the Forest Service has received more than 4 million comments on the rule, 95 percent of which favored its strongest protections.
“The roadless rule reflects the most extensive federal rulemaking process in history,” McKinnon said. “It, more than any previous Forest Service rule, reflects the will of the people — which is to protect these pristine lands for future generations.”
The Bush administration repealed the 2001 rule soon after taking office, replacing it with a rule that allows states to petition the federal government to allow roadless-area management of their choosing. That left millions of acres of roadless national forest at risk to logging, mining, and other forms of development.
“Our nation’s natural heritage is at stake,” said McKinnon. “The value of these places transcends politics and trumps short-sighted industry interests. Roadless areas deserve immediate and permanent protection.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.