Thursday, August 6, 2009

People of the State of CA v. USDA (Roadless Rule)

Aug 5: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-15613 & 07-15695. As explained by the Appeals Court, this case involves procedural challenges to a United States Forest Service Rule known as the "State Petitions Rule." The plaintiffs, several states and various environmentalist organizations, contend that the State Petitions Rule was promulgated without proper process and that it is invalid. They urge us to affirm the district court, which set aside the State Petitions Rule and reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, more commonly known as the “Roadless Rule,” pending Forest Service compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Appeals Court said, "We agree with the plaintiffs that the promulgation of the State Petitions Rule effected a repeal of the Roadless Rule, which we previously found to afford greater protections to the nation’s roadless areas than those the individual forest plans provide. The Forest Service’s use of a categorical exemption to repeal the nationwide protections of the Roadless Rule and to invite States to pursue varying rules for roadless area management was unreasonable. It was likewise unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environment, listed species, and their critical habitats would be unaffected by this regulatory change. We affirm the district court’s order permanently enjoining the implementation of the State Petitions Rule because the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act when it promulgated the State Petitions Rule. We further conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the Forest Service to comply with the Roadless Rule as a remedy for these procedural shortcomings."

In it decision, the Ninth Circuit provides an overview of the factual background and procedural history of this lengthy litigation. Additionally, the Court also resolve disputes about the ripeness of the plaintiffs’ claims and the appropriate standard of review to apply to them.

Earthjustice, a party in the case issued a statement saying, "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed protection for over 40 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging, and development. The decision puts an end to the Bush administration's efforts to open these last great natural areas to development. Today's ruling protects the majority of national forest roadless areas in the country. . . Today's ruling not only affirms and reinstates the most popular environmental rule of all time, it frees the Obama administration to pursue President Obama's pledge to 'support and defend' the 2001 Rule -- including appealing an adverse ruling from a Wyoming federal court, ending the roadless protection exemption for the Tongass National Forest, and refraining from enacting specific state legislation, like that proposed in Colorado."

Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said, "We're not out of the woods yet. This decision halts the Bush administration assault on roadless areas, but the Obama administration should now take the next steps necessary to make protection permanent." On May 28, 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the signing of an interim directive regarding inventoried roadless areas within the National Forests and Grasslands. At the time Vilsack said, "This interim directive will provide consistency and clarity that will help protect our national forests until a long-term roadless policy reflecting President Obama's commitment is developed." The directive provided decision-making authority to the Secretary over proposed forest management or road construction projects in inventoried roadless areas [
See WIMS 5/29/09].

USDA indicated at the time, "In simultaneously upholding and overturning the 2001 Clinton roadless rule, the courts have created confusion and made it difficult for the U.S. Forest Service to do its job. The directive will ensure that USDA can carefully consider activities in these inventoried roadless areas while long term roadless policy is developed and relevant court cases move forward."

Access the complete opinion (click here). Access the release from Earthjustice (click here). Access the 1-page USDA Interim Directive (click here). Access the USDA Roadless Area Conservation website for more information (click here). Access the Heritage Forests Campaign website for extensive information and background on roadless areas (click here).

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