A federal appeals court Friday upheld a Clinton administration rule that bans road building and logging on roughly a quarter of the country’s national forest land.
The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit of the U. S. Court of Appeals could settle one of the most contentious conservation issues of the past decade. The 2001 roadless rule, issued in the final days of the Clinton administration, generated lawsuits, conflicting court opinions and repeal efforts.
The ruling was the second by a federal appeals court to uphold the Clinton action. The state of Wyoming and mining interests argued that the road ban usurped congressional authority by establishing de facto wilderness areas on a large chunk of Western public lands.
The case could be appealed to the Supreme Court, but environmental attorneys said the ruling was so strong it likely spells an end to the protracted legal battle over millions of acres of public forest.
In their opinion, the Denver panel, two Republican and one Democratic appointee, found the Clinton prohibitions were not as strict as wilderness protections and did not exceed the authority of the U.S. Forest Service.
While the regulations barred road construction and timber harvesting, the judges noted they permitted a number of activities not allowed in congressionally designated wilderness areas, including use of existing roads, commercial grazing, mining activities and snowmobiling.
The 2001 order protected 58.5 million of the 191 million acres in the national forest system. The large Tongass National Forest in Alaska was later exempted, but that move was overturned by a federal district court.
Using a federal petition process, Idaho also adopted its own, laxer standards for the 9.3 million acres of roadless forest within its boundaries. Conservation groups are challenging the Idaho action.
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