Federal judge reinstates ‘Roadless Rule’ | AspenTimes.com

Federal judge reinstates ‘Roadless Rule’

Terence Chea
The Associated Press

A helicopter ferries a log to the landing Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, on the Mike's Gulch timber sale in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest outside Selma, Ore. A federal judge reinstated a ban Wednesday on road construction in nearly 50 million acres of pristine wilderness, overturning a Bush administration rule that could have cleared the way for more commercial activity in national forests. (AP Photo by Jeff Barnard)

SAN FRANCISCO ” A federal judge on Wednesday reinstated the “Roadless Rule,” a Clinton-era ban on road construction in nearly a third of national forests.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled that the Bush administration failed to conduct necessary environmental studies before making changes that allowed states to decide how to manage individual national forests.

The 2001 rule prohibits logging, mining and other development on 58.5 million acres in 38 states and Puerto Rico, but the Bush administration replaced it in May 2005 with a process that required governors to petition the federal government to protect national forests in their states.

Laporte sided with 20 environmental groups and four states ” California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington ” that sued the U.S. Forest Service over the changes.

“This is fantastic news for millions of Americans who have consistently told the Forest Service that they wanted these last wild areas of public land protected,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups.

The Bush administration was reviewing the ruling to decide on an appeal, said Dave Tenny, deputy undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service.

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Representatives of the timber industry denounced the decision, saying it would leave roadless areas vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires because firefighters could not access blazes in remote forests.

Chris West, vice president of the Portland-based American Forest Industry Council, said states should be allowed to decide how best to manage and protect their forests. West said, “This lawsuit and this decision is all about politics.”

Laporte’s ruling does not affect about 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is covered by a separate rule on road construction and other development.