High Court Rejects Appeal Over Forest ‘Roadless Rule’

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact a rule issued in the waning days of Bill Clinton’s presidency to protect 58.5 million acres of forest lands, as the justices turned away arguments from states and industry groups.

The justices today refused to question a federal appeals court’s conclusion that the U.S. Forest Service was within its authority when it issued the so-called Roadless Rule in January 2001, eight days before Clinton left office.

The rebuff is a setback to Wyoming, which pressed the appeal, and trade groups representing the mining, cattle, oil and farming industries. The rule prohibits road construction or reconstruction and virtually all timber extraction on land in 38 states, mostly in the western part of the country. The area is about the size of New York and Pennsylvania combined.

“The ban adversely affects a host of different interests, including those associated with mineral extraction, timber production, grazing, water improvement, wildfire management, outdoor recreation and sporting opportunities of all types,” Wyoming argued in its appeal. Eight other states also urged high court review.

The Obama administration defended the rule in court, saying the provision would have “only minor adverse national socioeconomic effects” while providing “significant benefits” to watersheds, wildlife and ecosystem health.

A Denver-based federal appeals court upheld the rule, rejecting contentions that the Agriculture Department was usurping Congress’s prerogative to declare wilderness areas.

The Supreme Court today also rejected a similar appeal pressed by the Colorado Mining Association.

The cases are Wyoming v. Department of Agriculture, 11-1378, and Colorado Mining Association v. Department of Agriculture, 11-1384.

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