Wednesday, September 20, 2006
FORESTS: Calif. judge reinstates Clinton roadless rule
Dan Berman, Greenwire senior reporter
Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco sided with four Democratic attorneys general and 20 environmental groups in reinstating the Clinton rule and throwing out the Bush administration's roadless petition plan. The Clinton rule put 58.5 million acres of national forest off-limits to roadbuilding, logging and other development.
Idaho Gov. Jim Risch (R) is scheduled to announce his state's roadless petition today along with Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, but it is unclear how Laporte's ruling will play out. "Defendants are enjoined from taking any further action contrary to the Roadless Rule without undertaking environmental analysis consistent with this opinion," Laporte said.
Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron said the agency will review today's decision. "We still believe the state petition rule is a viable way to protect roadless areas."
The states, who filed their challenge last September (Washington joined this February), claim the Bush administration failed to conduct an environmental analysis of removing the Clinton roadless protections as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The state petition plan that provides no guarantees that a governor's wishes will be followed.
Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath (D) and Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe (D) have filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, the environmental groups, who filed their suit in October, also charge the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service on the potential effects to threatened and endangered species of the roadless petition rule.
The Clinton rule was opposed by many Western Republican lawmakers and the timber and oil and gas industries who felt the rule was overly restrictive and arbitrary. The motorized recreation lobby also opposes a return to the Clinton-era standard and several groups have filed to intervene in the case on behalf of the federal government: the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, BlueRibbon Coalition, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs and United Four Wheel Drive Associations. The Silver Creek Timber Co. has also intervened in the case (Greenwire, Aug. 1).