Court denies request for roadless rule rehearing |

Court denies request for roadless rule rehearing

P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Wyoming’s request to reconsider a decision upholding a 2001 rule barring development on nearly 50 millions of acres of roadless areas in national forests.

In November, a three-judge panel of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rule passed under former President Bill Clinton. In the latest action, the court denied Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association’s request for a rehearing.

Stuart Sanderson, president of the association, as well as Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, said they’re reviewing the opinion. Sanderson said his group is considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

“This rule is so sweeping,” Sanderson said. “There are areas where there have been active coal mining operations for the better part of a century…”

One case challenging the application of the roadless rule in Alaska remains pending. The California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the roadless rule in a separate case in 2009.

“The importance of a national policy to preserve what remains of America’s pristine forests cannot be overstated,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group, which has worked on the rulemaking since 1998. “Without the roadless rule, protection of these areas would be left to the patchwork management system that has resulted in millions of acres lost to industrial development.”

Court challenges had left the fate of the federal roadless rule in question, prompting Idaho and Colorado to try to craft its own. Colorado is awaiting approval from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on its proposed policy, which would carve out exceptions in the national policy to allow for things like potential ski resort expansions or methane vents at coal mines.

Sanderson said 30 percent of Colorado’s coal is mined in the affected areas.

“Colorado all along said we need the Colorado rule as insurance in case the national rule is invalidated,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney who has worked on the case for the last decade. “Now we know the national rule is not invalidated. It’s not an insurance policy that’s needed. What’s more, the Colorado rule would reduce protections that the 10th Circuit has now restored to Colorado forests.”

Wyoming had argued that the definition of roadless lands is synonymous with wilderness lands, and that the 1964 Wilderness Act states that only Congress can designate wilderness lands. The U.S. Forest Service currently manages more than 190 million acres of land used for multiple purposes that must comply with strict rules on land use changes spelled out in the federal Wilderness Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The 10th Circuit overruled Cheyenne-based U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer’s decision that the rule created a de facto wilderness area.

“We have supported that position because the Roadless Rule has serious implications for Wyoming,” Mead said in a statement. “Wyoming has over 3 million acres of national forests, which would be subject to restrictions under the Roadless Rule.”