Judge won’t reconsider ‘roadless rule’ order
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A federal judge in Wyoming won’t reconsider his nationwide order blocking a Clinton-era ban on road construction in nearly 60 million acres of national forest.
U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer on Monday denied a request from the federal government to reconsider his order last August declaring the so-called “roadless rule” invalid nationwide.
Brimmer’s is the latest in a series of conflicting court decisions that have put the roadless rule’s legal status in doubt.
Citing the conflicting court opinions, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month issued a directive reinstating the Clinton-era roadless rule for one year. The 2001 rule banned road-building and logging in more than 58 million acres of remote national forests, mostly in the West.
Vilsack said last month that his interim directive provided clarity to help protect national forests until the Obama administration develops a long-term roadless policy. The directive gave Vilsack sole decision-making authority over all proposed forest management or road construction projects in designated roadless areas in all states except Idaho.
Idaho was one of two states that developed its own roadless rule under a Bush administration policy giving states more control over whether and how to block road-building in remote forests. The state’s plan for management of more than 9 million acres of roadless national forests has been approved.
Colorado is still working with the Forest Service to clarify language in its roadless plan. Gov. Bill Ritter has said the work will continue even though some conservation groups say the plan should be scrapped in favor of the 2001 rule.
Environmental groups on Tuesday promised to quickly pursue their pending appeal of Brimmer’s ruling from last August.
Brimmer’s ruling ordered a permanent injunction against the federal government’s roadless rule in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Wyoming. Brimmer said the rule was enacted in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act.
“By violating NEPA, the USDA and the Forest Service neglected to consider all of the potentially negative environmental impacts the 2001 roadless rule would impose,” Brimmer said in his ruling this week.
Jim Angell, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Denver office, said Brimmer also turned down a request from environmental groups to delay his injunction until an appeals court had a chance review last August’s ruling.
Angell said Vilsack’s directive from last month was “a good procedural step,” but doesn’t guarantee that projects won’t be carried out in roadless areas with Vilsack’s approval.
“We really need the protection of the roadless rule itself,” Angell said. “There’s nothing in the directive that prohibits any particular project from going forward.”