Obama admin dips toe into legal fray over conflicting roadless rule decisions

Thursday’s court filing by the Department of Justice in the 10th Circuit Court in Wyoming, which has federal jurisdiction over Colorado, indicating the DOJ will appeal two previous rulings against the 2001 Clinton roadless rule is a strong sign which way the Obama administration is leaning on the issue.

President Obama, as both an Illinois senator and candidate for president in 2008, indicated he supported the highly protective roadless rule put in place by the Clinton administration but quickly tossed aside by the Bush administration in 2001.

But since taking the White House, Obama has yet to indicate whether he supports fully reinstating the Clinton rule, which placed widespread restrictions on road building and development on nearly 60 million acres of national forest land nationwide (including 4.4 million in Colorado).

“The administration’s move [Thursday] to join conservationists in defending the roadless rule marks an important step toward resolving the conflicts and patchwork approach that have hindered forest management for decades,” Jane Danowitz, Director of Pew Environment Group’s Public Lands Program, said in a release.

“We hope the action taken in federal court [Thursday] signals that the Obama administration intends to move quickly toward fulfilling its pledge to reinstate the roadless rule as the best policy to preserve pristine forestlands across the country, including Colorado.”

Colorado has been on its own path since Bush allowed states to petition for their own rule, but that lengthy process has been controversial in recent years, with conservationists charging the plan to protect 4.2 million acres of the state’s public lands contains too many exceptions for logging, energy development and ski-area expansion. The state maintains it needs the exceptions to reduce wildfire danger in the wake of a massive beetle-kill epidemic and to sustain certain industries key to Colorado’s economic future.

Just last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of the 2001 roadless rule, but two previous rulings by the 10th Circuit Court found the rule violated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Now the Obama administration is poised to contest that finding.

And Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who in Denver Monday stopped short of endorsing the 2001 rule or criticizing the Colorado rule, made a major policy speech on national forests today in Washington State.

Vilsack reportedly did confirm the administration’s support for a strong national roadless rule in that speech.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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