Roadless Forests appeal

Supreme Court leaves issue settled — almost

For more than 11 years, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule has beenin political and judicial limbo as different presidential administrationsand state governors have given their take on the rule designed to preventdevelopment on 58.5 million acres of roadless forests across the UnitedStates.

With Monday’s rejection of an appeal challenging the rule, the U.S.Supreme Court has nearly settled the issue once and for all. It is hightime.

The court’s rejection of the appeal of a U.S. Circuit Court ofAppeals decision in 2011 affirming the rule, leaves just one more appeal — filed by the state of Alaska - pending. Observers believe that Monday’sdecision does not bode well for that challenge, which is awaiting action infederal court in Washington D.C. After countless appeals, some states — including Colorado — coming up with their own roadless forest rules, andmore than a decade of discussion, it is time to put the issue to rest.

The measure was finalized in the waning days of the Clintonadministration after the U.S. Forest Service collected millions of publiccomments on the proposed rule that was crafted over three years of carefulstudy. The public response was overwhelmingly supportive of the rule thatwould keep development off of inventoried roadless forest areas so as toprotect habitat, wildlife, watersheds and other critical values. Upon takingoffice, President George W. Bush reversed the rule, setting off a series oflawsuits and policy-making processes to generate a substitute for the rule.

In Colorado, that process resulted in a state-specific rulefinalized in July by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The Coloradorule has many of the same protections as the national measure, but with someexceptions for wildfire prevention in forests near communities, access forcoal mining operations near Paonia, and ski area expansions. Theseexemptions are not beloved by conservation groups in the state ornationally, but those supporting the Colorado rule argue that it offersincreased protection for 4.2 million acres of roadless forests in the stateover what would exist without such a rule. Both sides have decent points.

Ultimately, though, it is long since past time for this issue to besettled, and for Colorado, it was even before Monday’s Supreme Court action.

In the remaining 50-some million acres of roadless forests in the UnitedStates, some modicum of certainty about how they will be managed is welcome.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was well-conceived, crafted carefully,vetted thoroughly and selected properly. For that sound adventure throughthe policy process, the rule has been rewarded with seemingly endlesspushback at the administrative and judicial levels. With those mattersnearly settled, the rule can finally move on to its next step in thejourney: full implementation. Those opposed the rule, or wanting more fromit or its state-level spin-offs will be best served by turning theirattention to how that takes place. Let the fight end at the rule level.