December 3, 2008

Judge scales back "Roadless Rule"

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal magistrate judge ruled Tuesday that a Clinton-era ban against new road construction and development on millions of acres of national forest would apply only to 10 western states.

Two years ago, Judge Elizabeth Laporte invalidated a 2005 Bush administration rule that overturned the 2001 "Roadless Rule," which protected 58.5 million acres of federal land in about 40 states.

But in August, a federal judge in Wyoming invalidated President Bill Clinton's Roadless Rule, leading the Bush administration to request that the two judges modify their conflicting rulings.

In response, Laporte reduced the geographic scope of her 2006 ruling.

The move is only a temporary fix. Federal appeals courts in San Francisco and Denver are expected to rule on the case next year, and road construction rules also could change under President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

Environmental groups that challenged the Bush administration's repeal of the Roadless Rule urged the government Tuesday to not weaken protections for about 13.6 million acres of roadless forests in the states no longer covered by Laporte's 2006 ruling.

Forest Service officials in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.