'Roadless' Management Still Under Fire

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Recreational interests were among those represented in a crowded courtroom as U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer presided over the latest legal maneuvers affecting U.S. Forest Service roadless area management.

In what is the latest lawsuit regarding roadless area management, the State of Wyoming seeks to have the court reinstate its earlier ruling finding the Clinton administration's 2001 Roadless Rule illegal.

In 2003, the Wyoming Court declared the 2001 Roadless Rule illegal and barred the Forest Service from implementing it anywhere in the National Forest system. While an appeal of that ruling filed by environmental groups wound through the federal courts, the Bush Administration in 2005 stated that it had no intention of resurrecting the enjoined 2001 Rule, preferring instead to address any "roadless" planning under rulemaking petitions presented by individual states.

However, the 2005 rule clarifying that approach was successfully challenged in lawsuits filed in the U.S. Northern District of California. In that appeal, the environmental groups were joined by the states of California, Oregon and New Mexico. In deciding those cases, the California court struck down the 2005 Rule and ordered that the 2001 Rule be reinstated. That ruling is currently under appeal from a number of parties, including the Forest Service and recreational groups.

A number of recreational groups have weighed in as "friends of the court" to protect recreational access to the roughly 60 million acres of "roadless areas" potentially affected by the Rule.

In the present case, recreational groups such as the BlueRibbon Coalition are supporting Wyoming's position and are seeking a court order preventing the Forest Service from implementing the 2001 Rule.

"Thirty years of experience and several bouts of litigation have hopefully cemented the reality that top-down, one-size-fits-all management programs will not work on diverse forest landscapes spanning the country," says Paul Turcke, one of the lawyers representing the Recreational Groups. "It is important to understand that each roadless area is unique and local conditions should be taken into consideration when managing these lands."

"We hope that the eventual outcome of all this litigation is for cooler heads to conclude that Washington D.C. is the wrong place to address 'roadless area' management," adds Brian Hawthorne, public lands policy director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. "The current state petitions from Idaho and Colorado show that policy makers from diverse political backgrounds can best respond to these issues by engaging local interests in the forest planning process, which provides for the deliberate, transparent and technically proficient analysis these areas require."

After listening to nearly six hours of argument Oct. 19, the Wyoming Court took the matter under advisement. Pending any decision from the Wyoming Court, the 2001 Rule technically remains the operative strategy for managing "roadless" lands by virtue of the California decision.