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Roadless Area Conservation Rule at Risk

The Wilderness Society 3/23/01 

As if allowing higher concentrations of arsenic in America's drinking

water and loosening restrictions on hard-rock mining were not enough for one week, on Wednesday the Bush administration essentially abdicated its responsibility to defend our national forests.

In a stealth move that signals tacit cooperation with the timber industry, the Bush administration offered an anemic defense to industry arguments that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule - the most significant national forest conservation measure of the past 100 years - should be overturned.

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The Roadless Area Conservation Rule would protect 58.5 million acres of unspoiled national forest land from commercial logging, road construction and other damaging activities. More than half of national forest land is already open to logging, mining and other extractive industries. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service issued the rule after a three-year administrative process that involved more than 600 public meetings and 1.6 million public comments.

Almost immediately following the inauguration, the Bush administration ordered that all recent Clinton administration rules and policies be suspended and subjected to review. Accordingly, in early February the administration announced that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, scheduled to go into effect March 13, would be delayed until May 12.

But the rule could be further delayed - or even rescinded - depending on the outcome of several pending lawsuits.




Earlier this year, the Boise Cascade Company, the State of Idaho and others filed two separate lawsuits against the federal government to overturn the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Boise Cascade and the State of Idaho also asked that the court issue an injunction to prevent the rule

from being implemented while the case is being tried.

On Wednesday, in response to the request for an injunction, and despite pledges by Attorney General John Ashcroft to the contrary, the Bush administration offered absolutely no defense of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. In fact, the 5-page response did not attempt to address any of the legal claims raised by Boise Cascade and the State of Idaho,

namely that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule lacked specific details, there was insufficient time for the State to respond and public participation was inadequate.

As Jon Owen from the Washington Wilderness Coalition told NPR Radio, "Our natural heritage is on trial and our defense attorney just walked out of the courtroom and started oiling up the chainsaws of the prosecution."  "The Bush administration showed its cards," said Tim Preso, attorney for

the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the eight environmental groups arguing in favor of the road ban. "This appears to be a calculated first step by the administration to avoid offering any defense of the [Roadless Area Conservation Rule]."  Rather than the anemic response given by the Bush administration, the court should have been told the simple truth: that the injunction should not be granted because the Roadless Area Conservation Rule complies with

all legal requirements.  "By pulling its punches at this point, the administration is indicating that it may simply throw in the towel," said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. "Their strategy seems to be either to use the lawsuits as an excuse to delay implementation of the rule or, by mounting so weak a

defense as to lose the case, allow the rule to be rescinded."

The Judge will likely determine whether the injunction should be granted sometime in early April, following a March 30 hearing. If he grants the injunction, the implementation of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule will be again delayed.  The Wilderness Society, along with a coalition of organizations, has been granted standing in the lawsuit. Through the efforts of lawyers at Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and National Resources Defense Council, the conservation community is working to uphold the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and protect our national forests.

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Roadless Area Archives:

Sept 5 Roadless Input Needed

Aug 22 Roadless Input Needed

Aug 20 OHV User Group Forming

Aug 8 Threatening BWCA

Aug 8 Input Needed

June 28 Dayton to Overturn

April 26 Roadless Appeal

April 11 OHV Legislation

March 28 Roadless

March 23 Roadless at Risk

March 13 ATV

March 12 Wild Alert

2000 Roadless Archives:

Proposed Roadless Mtgs

Roadless Area Proposal

Additional Information

2002 Roadless Area Archives:

Implementation of Roadless Area Urged

Jan 10 Roadless Anniversary

Jan 4 Reconsider ATV Trail