Roadless Rule reinstated
By Cory Hatch with AP reports
September 21, 2006
A federal court decision to reinstate former President Bill Clinton’s Roadless Rule could make new oil and gas drilling on the Bridger-Teton’s 1.4 million inventoried roadless acres more difficult, according to conservation groups.
The Roadless Rule does not prohibit oil and gas drilling in inventoried roadless areas, but could force energy developers to use helicopters or directional drilling to access fossil fuel deposits, according to the Wyoming Wilderness Association and Earthjustice.
The discussion comes after U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte sided with states and environmental groups that sued the U.S. Forest Service for reversing President Clinton’s 2001 Roadless Rule, which prohibited logging, mining and other development on roughly 50 million acres in 38 states and Puerto Rico.
In May last year, the Bush administration replaced the Clinton rule with a process that required governors to petition the federal government to protect roadless areas in their states.
Laporte said the process violated federal law because it did not require necessary environmental studies.
In the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the reinstated Roadless Rule will affect oil and gas drilling after the completion of a new Forest Management Plan, due out in 2008. Until then, an agreement between Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the Forest Service protects inventoried roadless areas in the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone national forests from further leasing.
Liz Howell, executive director of the Wyoming Wilderness Association, said the decision likely won’t affect land that was previously leased for oil and gas development. Further, motorized use will continue in roadless areas, especially snowmobiles, motorcycles, and other vehicles that don’t depend on roads. Nevertheless, Howell said the decision was a “long time coming.”
“Roadless areas are so important for good hunting, wildlife habitat, and good drinking water,” she said. “The fact that there is no new development keeps wildlife feeling safe, it gives them a sense of security.”
The plaintiffs, including 20 environmental groups and California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, were pleased with Laporte’s ruling.
“This is fantastic news for millions of Americans who have consistently told the Forest Service that they wanted these last wild areas of public land protected,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit in October 2005.
Doug Honnold, managing attorney for the Earthjustice’s Bozeman office, called Judge Laporte’s decision “a big deal.”
“It really is about how much of our area is going to be managed for extraction, logging, mining, oil and gas; and how much is going to be managed for environmental values like fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing,” Honnold said.
Honnold said the decision is especially important for the greater Yellowstone area, where ecosystems in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park benefit from a “buffer” of roadless areas. “[The reinstated Roadless Rule] is going to dictate what the carrying capacity is for all kinds of wildlife in the Yellowstone ecosystem,” he said. “It’s a huge issue.”
Franz Camenzind, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, welcomed Laporte’s decision, but said roadless areas are far from secure. “My first reaction is that I think it is good news for those of us who enjoy remote landscapes here in the Bridger-Teton,” he said. “I suspect there will be an appeal... Will the state of Wyoming join in on that?”
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freduenthal said his state would seek to revive a lawsuit that led a federal judge in Cheyenne to strike down the Clinton rule in 2003. That ruling was rendered moot when the Bush administration issued its own rule.
“Obviously, this decision in a federal district court in California tends to resurrect an issue which had been deemed moot,” Freudenthal said.
The reinstated ban on road construction affects nearly a third of national forest land, overturning a Bush administration rule that allowed states to decide how to manage individual forests.
Forest Service officials could not be immediately reached for comment.