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Supreme Court Declines to Review Decision Upholding Roadless Rule

October 5, 2012

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear two challenges to a prior decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule limits activities such as logging and mining in designated roadless areas in national forests. Under the rule, 58 million acres were designated as Roadless.

Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association each filed petitions for writ of certiorari requesting the Supreme Court to reconsider the 10th Circuit decision. The 10th Circuit had addressed, among other things, the question of whether the Roadless Rule created de facto wilderness areas without following certain procedural requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA requires Federal agencies to consider environmental effects that include, among others, impacts on social, cultural, and economic resources, as well as natural resources. The 10th Circuit held that because the Roadless Rule allowed the possibility of some economic activity, including road construction, grazing, and mining, it did not amount to a de facto creation of a wilderness area. The Supreme Court’s denial of certiori leaves this determination and the 2001 Roadless Rule in effect.

This is a notable step in a long history of Roadless Rule challenges. The 2001 Roadless Rule has been subject to several challenges; federal courts have twice held the rule invalid but those decisions have been overturned by federal appeals courts. A 2005 rule that would have provided states a larger role in the management of roadless areas was also challenged in many states on grounds it violated NEPA and the Endangered Species Act. That rule was struck down in federal court in California, which decision was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (California v. USDA, 9th Cir., No. 07-15613, 8/5/09). The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari will at long last put to rest the question of which roadless rule will govern in federal Forest Service lands.

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