Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
A highly controversial environmental rule protecting national forests was adopted in the final days of the Clinton administration. Environmentalists had hoped it was set in stone. It turned out to be set in shallow soil.
Known popularly as the “roadless” rule, it was first suspended and then effectively decimated by the administration of President George W. Bush, which was friendly to logging interests and hostile to environmental groups.
After years of controversy and multiple legal actions, during which the roadless rule was in limbo, a lawsuit filed by 20 environmental groups landed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Its responsibility was to render a definitive judgment on the original Clinton rule, a judgment that would, with three exceptions, apply nationally.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the judgment was to be made by a panel of three of the court’s judges, and as it turned out, the three were all conservatives who had been appointed by Republican presidents.
Last Wednesday the panel released its ruling, which was: Reinstate the Clinton rule as it was originally written. That rule placed reasonable restrictions on logging and road building in the nation’s treasured national forests.
The panel’s decision does not apply to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which the Bush administration, in a decision that still stands, exempted from the roadless rule. Nor does the decision apply in Wyoming, where a state lawsuit against the roadless rule is pending.
And neither does it immediately apply in Idaho. In 2001 the Bush administration suspended the roadless rule and in 2005 introduced a replacement allowing states to propose their own plans for protecting national forests. A federal judge halted Bush’s replacement rule in 2006, but the administration found a way last fall to approve a protection plan submitted by Idaho. That approval is being challenged by environmental groups.
We hope that someday the 9th Circuit’s decision applies to all of the country’s national forests.