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Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Friday, February 17, 2012

A federal appeals court in Denver has rejected Wyoming’s and the Colorado Mining Association’s bid to allow the court’s full panel to review a Clinton administration rule barring most logging and road building on nearly 60 million acres of national forests.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirms its October ruling in favor of the rule.

And it provides legal backing for what many environmentalists consider to be one on the biggest conservation achievements of the past century by ensuring roughly one-third of the nation’s forests would remain mostly intact.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) said he’d hoped the court would affirm District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer’s decision that the 2001 roadless rule violated federal law.

“In a well-reasoned opinion Judge Brimmer stated that the roadless rule creates de facto wilderness areas and only Congress should have this power,” Mead said in a statement.

“Wyoming has over 3 million acres of national forests, which would be subject to restrictions under the Roadless Rule,” he added. “I will review this decision with the attorney general and decide on a course of action.”

For now, the court’s decision in October that the rule had not illegally created de facto wilderness or violated the National Environmental Policy Act will stand.

“Today’s court decision gives President Obama a green light to implement one of the nation’s most important conservation polices,” said Jane Danowitz, public lands director for the Pew Environment Group. “With the last legal barrier cleared, the administration should move quickly to enforce the roadless rule as the law of the land.”

Danowitz said that without a roadless rule, forests are threatened by “patchwork” management regimes that have allowed the gradual encroachment of industrial development.

With decisions in both the 9th and 10th circuit courts affirming the rule, it appears unlikely that a Supreme Court challenge would prevail.

The Obama administration last summer renewed its commitment to implementing the Clinton rule (Greenwire, June 1, 2011). It will soon decide whether to allow Colorado to pursue its own rule on 4.2 million acres of forests in the state. Colorado and Idaho were the only states to pursue their own rules under a George W. Bush plan that was later deemed illegal.

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