U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Roadless Area Conservation Rule

NRDC Challenges Bush Administration to Enforce Forest Protections

SAN FRANCISCO (December 12, 2002) -- A federal appeals court struck down a lower court injunction blocking the implementation of a landmark forest conservation rule. In reversing the lower court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the rule complies with federal law.

"This means that the roadless rule is the law of the land," said Nathaniel Lawrence, a senior attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and co-counsel for environmental intervenors in the case. "The appeals court has resoundingly overturned the temporary injunction blocking the rule."

"Today's ruling vindicates the outpouring of public support and the extraordinary process that led to this monumental conservation rule," continued Lawrence. "It's a ray of hope at a time when our national forests are under assault by the Bush administration and its timber industry allies. The question now is whether the administration will enforce the rule or continue trying to gut it."

The U.S. Forest Service issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule on January 12, 2001 during the last days of the Clinton administration. The rule prohibits virtually all roadbuilding and logging on 58.5 million acres of unroaded areas in national forests.

The state of Idaho, Boise Cascade Corporation, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and recreational groups sued the federal government, arguing that they would suffer irreparable harm. Judge Edward J. Lodge of the U.S. District Court in Idaho agreed that the plaintiffs would likely win their case. On May 10, 2001, he granted their motion for a preliminary injunction blocking the rule.

By the time of Judge Lodge's ruling, the Bush administration had entered office. The new administration declined to appeal the ruling. The case went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals anyway because environmental groups had intervened and appealed on the side of the federal government.

The appeals court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the Forest Service violated the requirement for public input in crafting the rule. Judge Ronald M. Gould wrote in a 55-page ruling, "Upon our review of the record, we are persuaded that the Forest Service did provide the public with extensive, relevant information on the Roadless Rule. We also conclude that the Forest Service allowed adequate time for meaningful public debate and comment."

The appeals court noted that "the Forest Service held over 400 public meetings about the Roadless Rule and that it received over 1,150,000 written comments." It also rejected arguments that the Forest Service failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives.

"The Roadless Rule is wildly popular with the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to see our national forests protected," said Lawrence. "Unfortunately, the Bush administration never really tried to defend the rule. In fact, the administration made it clear that it was using Judge Lodge's opinion as a rationale for reopening and potentially gutting the rule. Since then, we've seen the administration steadily hack away at this and other forest conservation measures."

The case is Kootenai Tribe of Idaho v. Ann Veneman (Nos. 01-35472 01-35539 D.C. No. CV-01-00010-EJL). The full opinion is available on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals website at http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/. The environmental intervenors in the case are Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, Inc., Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC's co-counsel in the case was the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.