Sept. 21, 2006 – Environmentalists have declared victory after flattening the Bush administrationâ€™s effort to revoke protections for nearly 50 million acres of wild "roadless areas."
A federal district court in California yesterday restored sweeping safeguards for the countryâ€™s roadless areas, which the Bush administration repealed in May 2005. In a lawsuit brought by conservation groups and several state governments, Judge Elizabeth Laporte found that the White Houseâ€™s substitute policy was ill-conceived and failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy Acts.
The judge ruled that the original Clinton-era "roadless rule," which barred logging, road-building and other commercial activity, embodied the governmentâ€™s responsibility "to protect the social and ecological values and characteristics" of roadless lands.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, the Bush administrationâ€™s repeal of the roadless rule touched off a cascade of lawsuits and public protests across the country.
The Bush administrationâ€™s substitute policy forced states to petition the Forest Service individually for specific protections â€“ a process that several states have already begun. The judge projected that the decentralized policy would lead to bureaucratic delays and inconsistent protections for forests across state lines.
Despite pending legal challenges and a groundswell of grassroots environmental campaigns, the government has allowed commercial interests to creep onto roadless lands. In August, the Forest Service auctioned off timber to loggers in southwest Oregon's pristine Kalmiopsis roadless forest and sold off nearly 20,000 roadless acres in Colorado for oil and gas exploration.
The legal challenge was brought by environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife, together with the states of California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington.
Earthjustice, the legal advocacy group that represented the plaintiffs, said the court had delivered a long-awaited blow to what environmentalists view as a White House assault on the countryâ€™s wilderness.
In a statement following the ruling, Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said,"[The Bush administration] made these changes in a flatly illegal way and the court caught them."