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No roads where the deer roam, federal judge rules

An 18-month moratorium on road building and reconstruction will temporarily spare forest land such as this recreation area of the Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum, Idaho.  

January 11, 2000
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

A federal judge has upheld the U.S. Forest Service's 18-month moratorium on road building and reconstruction on many of the nation's inventoried but undeveloped areas.

By rejecting claims made by the timber industry, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer on Friday upheld the Forest Service's authority to continue its uniform regulatory procedures for management of 50 million acres of inventoried areas without roads. The court also ruled that the timber industry lacked the authority to raise arguments against such a moratorium.

"Rather than go through such a pointlessly repetitive exercise, the court ruled that the chief of the Forest Service properly adopted the broad moratorium through an agency-wide rule," said Jim Angell of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

The moratorium was challenged in court by the Wyoming timber industry on the grounds that a suspension in road-building and reconstruction could only be adopted on a case-by-case basis and not uniformly for all of the country's national forest lands.

In March 1999, the Forest Service imposed the moratorium to re-evaluate its approach to managing more than 380,000 miles of roads that crisscross national forest land. The service has used the time to consider the overwhelming evidence that its road system is the biggest cause of environmental damage to national forests, according to the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. Roads on national forest land are principally used by logging trucks.

The service is preparing a new policy that will redefine how roads will be built and maintained on national forest lands. There is strong public sentiment for the protection of areas without roads. Conservationists cite clean water, biological diversity, wildlife habitat and dispersed recreation as reasons for a moratium extending beyond 18 months.
Snwo scene
The Forest Service is re-evaluating the impact of roads in forest areas.  

The Forest Service readily acknowledges it doesn't have the resources to manage the country's existing road system. An estimated $8.4 billion worth of road reconstruction and maintenance waits to be done, according to the service.

"Fish, elk, and grizzly bears alike all benefit from the protection of our remaining roadless areas. Everyone who fishes, hunts or spends time in the backcountry should applaud Judge Brimmer's decision," said Angell.

On Oct. 13, 1999, President Clinton directed the Forest Service to study the impact of a permanent ban on road construction in all inventoried areas without roads. Based on public comment and extensive analysis of the remaining 50 million acres of inventoried land, the service plans to release a new proposal and draft environmental impact statement this spring.

The environmental impact statement will outline various alternatives for the management of areas now without roads. After more public comment period and analysis, the service will release a final plan and environmental impact statement, likely before the end of 2000.

Conservation groups in support of the moratorioum include the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Northwest Wyoming Resource Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Bighorn Forest Users Coalition, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Biodiversity Associates, Wyoming Wilderness Association, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, American Wildlands, American Lands Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Oregon Natural Resources Council, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Forest Service issues road moratorium
Computer model aids forest road builders
Americans say protect roadless areas
Mail deluge urges roadless area protection
Logging costs taxpayers $1.2 billion a year

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Congressional Research Service
Forest Guardians
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