President sides with environmentalists to reinstate roadless rule
By GARY HARMON
The Obama administration, siding with environmental organizations, will pick up where the Clinton administration left off and move to reinstate the 2001 rule governing development in national forests.
The move drew sharp criticism from state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and a defense from the administration of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.
“Bill Ritter acquiesced,” Penry said, suggesting the governor, who has stood by the Colorado roadless rule that would govern development on 4 million acres of national forests, had agreed to accommodate the Obama administration.
“It’s one more broken promise.”
Not hardly, said Mike King, assistant director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
The filing by the U.S. Forest Service in a roadless rule-related case in Wyoming is a “placeholder” that allows Colorado to continue work on its own rule, King said.
Ritter has spoken with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “and has been encouraged to make the Colorado rule better,” King said.
“We’ve been told to make it better, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Colorado officials last week unveiled a proposed rule that would expand the amount of land it would affect, as well as eliminate an allowance for new roads for livestock grazing.
The most recent version of the Colorado rule includes changes officials said were needed to prevent development of roadless areas while protecting communities and watersheds from fire.
The Obama administration filed papers in a lawsuit over the so-called Roadless Rule, which was drafted to prohibit commercial logging, mining, drilling and road-building on about 58 million acres of national forests, including 4 million acres in Colorado.
Environmental organizations welcomed the filing.
“This is a very positive, exciting development, because a favorable ruling in the 10th Circuit (Court of Appeals) would end the legal assault on 40 million acres of our roadless forests,” said Mike Anderson, a Seattle-based attorney and senior resource analyst for The Wilderness Society.
“Having the Obama administration on our side in this important case adds to our optimism that the 10th Circuit will dispel any further doubts about the legality of the 2001 rule.”
A spokesman for the Justice Department said the appeal notice meets a Friday deadline to preserve the government’s right to pursue the appeal.
The administration has not made a final decision on whether it will appeal the case, he said.
A federal appeals court threw out the 2005 Bush administration roadless rule last week, saying the rule “had the effect of permanently repealing uniform, nationwide, substantive protections that were afforded to inventoried roadless areas” in national forests.
The California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 2001 rule offered greater protection to remote forests than the 2005 rule.
The Aug. 5 ruling, one of dozens in recent years related to roadless forests, was not the final word on the issue.
The Wyoming case is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where environmental groups are appealing a ruling by a federal judge repealing the Clinton roadless rule.
Arguments are expected this fall before an appeals panel in Denver.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.