Make Roadless Rule Law

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the Clinton- era roadless rule. But congressional action still is needed to block development in the nation's finite inventory of roadless federal lands.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the 2001 rule, which bars road building - and by extension, most logging, mining, oil and gas drilling and other resource extraction - on nearly 60 million acres of public lands. Most of those large tracts of unroaded lands are in the West, including 2 million acres in Oregon.

President Clinton adopted the roadless rule in 2001 after three years of scientific studies and public comment, which strongly supported leaving unroaded areas intact. Without any semblance of scientific scrutiny or deliberation, the Bush administration suspended the rule in 2001 and eventually replaced it with a weak substitute that allowed states to determine their own development policies.

Environmental groups, along with states including Oregon and California, sued to block Bush's replacement policy, which catered to the timber, energy and mining industries.

The 9th Circuit Court panel called the Bush plan to repeal the roadless rule "unreasonable" and noted that it was "likewise unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environmental (protected) species and their critical habitats would be unaffected" by the move.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he supported the roadless rule. After a frustrating delay, his administration has taken steps to restore it. Those steps included an order in May from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for what amounts to a one-year timeout on most development as the administration reviews the roadless issue. …