U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge to Clinton-Era Roadless Rule

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Wyoming v. USDA, U.S., No. 11-1378, 10/01/12; Colorado Mining Ass'n v. USDA, U.S., No. 11-1384, 10/01/12

Key Development: The U.S. Supreme Court denies petitions for writs of certiorari seeking to overturn a decision upholding the Clinton administration Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

By Tripp Baltz  

DENVER--The U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 1 rejected two challenges to a federal appeals court ruling upholding the Clinton administration's Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Wyoming v. USDA, U.S., No. 11-1378, 10/01/12; Colorado Mining Ass'n v. USDA, U.S., No. 11-1384, 10/01/12).

The high court denied petitions for writ of certiorari filed by Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association seeking to overturn an October 2011 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upholding the 2001 rule.

The rule limits economic activities such as logging and mining in designated roadless areas with national forests, which are administered by the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service. A USFS spokesperson in Denver could not be reached for comment.

The federal appeals court had order a lower district court to vacate its injunction against the rule. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming had determined the rule violated the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by creating de facto wilderness areas and by doing so without following NEPA.

Not De Facto Creation of Wilderness.

In the 10th Circuit ruling, a three-judge panel said the roadless rule allowed the possibility of at least some road construction and some grazing and mining, which meant that it did not amount to a de facto creation of a wilderness area (205 DER A-16, 10/24/11).

The petitioners also had argued that the rule violated the National Forest Management Act, but the appeals court said a rule issued under authority of the Organic Administration Act did not need to conform to the National Forest Management Act.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) said he was disappointed in the decision but believed it was beneficial to take the state's argument to the Supreme Court.

“The roadless rule impacts an enormous amount of public land in Wyoming,” he said. “It places restrictions on three million acres of National Forests in Wyoming, impacting important aspects of our economy because of the consequences to this state.

“I am ready to move on continuing to work with the Forest Service about these concerns,” he added.

Bush Administration Rule.

A 2005 rule promulgated by the Bush administration which would have allowed states a larger say in regulation of roadless areas was struck down by a federal court ruling in California that was later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (California v. USDA, 9th Cir., No. 07-15613, 8/5/09).

The Bush administration's State Petitions Rule had been challenged by several states and environmental groups on the grounds that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by allowing for possible reductions in environmental protection without adequate analysis and justification (149 DER A-14, 8/6/09).

By Tripp Baltz  

The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Wyoming v. USDA is available at http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/09/09-8075.pdf.