Judge blocks ban on building in forests

The Associated Press
Bremerton Sun

July 15, 2003

A federal judge Monday struck down a ban on road building in a third of America's national forests, saying the Clinton administration rule illegally created wilderness areas -- a power reserved for Congress.
It was the second injunction issued by a federal judge against the ban. The first, on behalf of Idaho in 2001, was overturned in December by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.

Monday's decision sends the case, brought on behalf of Wyoming, to the more conservative 10th Circuit in Denver. If the two appeals courts issue opposing rulings, the case could go to the Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer ruled Monday that the Forest Service's designation of 58.5 million acres of roadless areas nationwide was a "thinly veiled attempt to designate 'wilderness areas' in violation of the clear and unambiguous process established by the Wilderness Act."

Only Congress can create wilderness areas under the act.

Jim Angell, a lawyer for the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund, said an immediate appeal was planned.

Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank praised the ruling, calling it a decision that "has implications throughout the entire United States."

Brimmer also ruled that the Forest Service circumvented proper procedures and acted in "political haste." He said the agency did not allow enough public comment.

Angell and other environmentalists disagreed, saying the rule drew more public comment than any other forest regulation and was explained at public hearings around the country.

"The roadless rule has the overwhelming support of the American people," said Jeff Kessler, conservation director for the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

Adopted in the final days of the Clinton administration, the rules prevent logging, road construction and other activities in designated areas.


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