Roadless rule upheld
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
October 2, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Wyoming’s appeal of the 2001 Clinton roadless rule that bars development in 52 million acres of national forests.
The ruling marks the end of a battle that left the rule in doubt for more than a decade. Environmental groups applauded the decision, which restricts development and affirms protection of 3.25 million acres in Wyoming.
“This is the nail in the coffin in Wyoming’s legal case against the roadless rule,” said Tim Preso, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “From a legal perspective, this is the end of the road. From a broader perspective, this is a huge victory for undeveloped forest areas that provide clean water, fresh air and ... all kinds of opportunities for public use.”
Liz Howell, the executive director of the Wyoming Wilderness Association, said the roadless rule already had a number of exemptions written into it.
“I’m very happy and not surprised that the Supreme Court upheld the roadless rule,” Howell said. “The federal government can’t take care of the roads that we have already in Wyoming. Developing our forests costs us clean water and pristine habitat for wildlife.”
Justices said Monday they would leave in place a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by the state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association. The appeals court sided with the so-called roadless rule that took effect late in the Clinton presidency.
Wyoming argued that closing so much land to development has hurt the logging, mining and drilling industries. Gov. Matt Mead issued a statement after Monday’s announcement that said the roadless rule “impacts an enormous amount of public land in Wyoming.”
“It places restrictions on 3 million acres of national forests in Wyoming, impacting important aspects of our economy because of the consequences to this state,” Mead’s statement said. “I believe it was beneficial to take our argument to the U.S. Supreme Court. While I am disappointed in the decision, I am ready to move on continuing to work with the Forest Service about these concerns.”
In the Bridger-Teton National Forest, there are 1.43 million acres affected by the ruling. Another 687,000 acres are protected in the Shoshone, 621,000 acres in the Bighorn and 319,000 acres in Medicine Bow national forests.
Wyoming argued that the U.S. Forest Service essentially declared forests to be wilderness areas, a power that rests with Congress under the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Preso said there are local implications to Monday’s ruling.
“The Wyoming Range should be exhibit one on the value of the roadless rule,” Preso said, adding that the ruling protects hunting and fishing grounds in the range from industrial development.
Plains Exploration & Production’s proposal to drill 136 gas wells from 17 well pads near Bondurant is not affected by the ruling, Preso said.
“I think those leases are all pre-roadless rule and therefore are grand-fathered in,” he said.
Preso has fought for the rule since before it was promulgated in 2000. He said the ruling marked a victory for wildlands and the public.
“These are the places people go elk hunting, these are the places they take their kids fishing, these are places where people hike,” he said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.