Federal 'roadless' policy officially ends - Forest Service chief: Decision changes little

By Steve Raabe
Denver Post Business Writer


The head of the U.S. Forest Service expects no immediate impact from a government decision upholding a court ruling that lifted a ban on road-building in a third of America's national forests.

The Justice Department's decision not to appeal U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer's ruling on the so-called roadless policy was welcomed Monday by industry groups and left environmentalists grumbling.

The government let pass a Friday deadline for appealing Brimmer's decision, which negated a ruling from the final days of the Clinton administration that banned building of new roads on 58.5 million acres of remote forest land controlled by the Forest Service.

The Clinton policy limited timber harvesting, mining and drilling for oil and gas on the national forest lands.

In an interview Monday in Denver, Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth said his agency still supports the idea of roadless areas and said the decision not to appeal Brimmer's ruling will have no immediate impact on national forests.

"It's not that much of an issue because we're not going to be going out and building roads in roadless areas," Bosworth said. "I believe we should be protecting roadless values."

But environmental groups said they're not convinced.

"They give lip service to protecting roadless areas but their actions, particularly failing to defend (roadless policies) in court, speak otherwise," said Tiernan Sittenfeld of Environment Colorado.

Brimmer, who is based in Cheyenne, ruled this year that the Clinton road ban was a "thinly veiled attempt to designate 'wilderness areas' in violation of the clear and unambiguous process established by the Wilderness Act."

Environmental groups subsequently accused Brimmer of conflict of interest because he owns stock in several oil and gas companies that might benefit from easier access to drilling.

Brimmer has acknowledged in a statement that he owns energy stocks, but said none of the companies are parties to his ruling.

Greg Schnacke of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said Monday that Brimmer's ruling was correct because the roadless policy was made hastily and without adequate scientific or geologic information.

Several environmental groups, including the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Wyoming Outdoor Council, have appealed the Brimmer ruling to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court has not yet taken any action on the appeal.


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