U.S. Seeks to Gut 2001 Roadless Area Protection Rule!

In what’s left of roadless areas of the nation’s National Forests,  wildlife species
get some security from human disturbance, harassment  and killing. It goes without
saying that wildlife can sure use the  security, with or without the pressures
exerted by our new climate.  But homeland security for wildlife isn’t the only good
reason to keep  the remnant roadless roadless.

What’s left of the nation’s roadless areas also serve the creatures  we all know
best — people. It’s no secret that many Americans like  to get out of their cars
and away from roadside crowds to enjoy the  singular freedom of a walk in the wild
quiet of roadless woods. I’m  one. For me, homeland security means security for the
roadless forests too.
“Last year, more than 140 House members and 19 senators introduced  the National
Forest RoadlessArea Conservation Act. It is past time to provide permanent
protection for the forests by turning the Clinton rule into firm law.”
The New York Times
August 21, 2008

There Ought to Be a Roadless Law

Among President Bill Clinton’s signature environmental achievements  was a
regulation that prohibited new roads – and by extension, new  commercial activity –
in nearly 60 million largely undeveloped acres  of the national forests. For seven
years, the Bush administration,  egged on by its friends in the timber and
oil-and-gas industries, has  worked tirelessly to kill the roadless rule.
Conservationists have  worked just as hard to preserve it.

Rules devised by the executive branch are often challenged on grounds  that they
violate an underlying federal statute or have been rushed  through without proper
vetting. Environmental regulations are especially contentious. The roadless rule,
in particular, has been  caught in an endless game of Ping-Pong, with some courts
upholding  it, others overturning it.

The good news is that little has changed on the ground: In seven years, only seven
miles of new roads have been built in protected  areas in thelower 48 states. Legally,
though, things are a complete  mess. That means that thereis no guaranteed protection for the
roadless forests.

The Clinton rule has been thrown out three times by district courts  in response to
lawsuits from states and industries. The most recent  injunction was handed down
last week by Clarence A. Brimmer, a conservative Federal District Court judge in Wyoming. He
issued one  of the earlierinjunctions and has supported the administration on  whether to limit
snowmobiles inYellowstone, which is another long-running environmental dispute.

The roadless rule has been reinstated twice – once at the appellate  level by the
Ninth Circuit, and later by a federal magistrate judge  in San Francisco, Elizabeth
LaPorte. Judge LaPorte also slapped down  a sneaky effort by the Bush administration
to take advantage of all  the confusion by replacing the Clinton rule with a much
weaker alternative of its own.

Environmental groups will surely appeal Judge Brimmer’s latest ruling, which, of course, they
should. But that still leaves too much  room formischief. Congress will have to intervene. Last
year, more  than 140 House membersand 19 senators introduced the National Forest  Roadless Area
Conservation Act. Itis past time to provide permanent  protection for the forests by turning the
Clintonrule into firm law.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


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