A federal appeals court dismissed an attempt by environmental groups to restore a Clinton-era ban on logging in roadless areas of national forests, saying their appeal became irrelevant when the Bush administration adopted a replacement rule.
The Clinton administration’s rule put 58.5 million acres of roadless forest off-limits to logging and other development. Under the new rule, those lands, most of which are in the West, are open to road building for potential logging, mining and other commercial uses.
A federal judge in Wyoming struck down the Clinton administration’s ban in 2003, ruling in a lawsuit filed by the state of Wyoming that the executive branch had overstepped its authority in effectively creating wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service land.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council and seven other environmental groups appealed. But on May 5, the day after the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals heard oral arguments, the Forest Service issued a new rule to replace the one that had been overturned.
“Adoption of the new rule has rendered the appeal moot,” a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling Monday.
Attorney Jim Angell of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund said the appellate decision does not end the fight but only “clears the decks” for new legal battles over the Bush administration rule.
Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron said the agency looks forward to working with state governors on roadless areas.
States have until late 2006 to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, to either stop or allow road building.
Colorado has created a task force to examine public land that had been covered by the Clinton ban, while Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, has said he would wait until next year to ask the Forest Service to open millions of acres of forest.
In Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, has said he finds “no compelling reason” to build more roads in forests but wants to hear from the counties that would be affected. In Utah, Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, has said he would let the Forest Service take the lead on roadless issues.