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Wyoming Asks High Court to Review 'Roadless Rule'

The state of Wyoming has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its challenge of the Clinton-era "roadless rule," which places restrictions on road-building to carry out energy exploration and production, logging and other commercial activities on more than 58 million acres of forest lands.

Wyoming asked the high court to review the October 2011 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturning an opinion of U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Wyoming, who had issued a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the roadless rule (see Daily GPI, Oct. 25, 2011). Because the U.S. Forest Service promulgated the road-building rule in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Wildness Act, it "must be set aside," Brimmer wrote in his 2008 decision (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14, 2008).

"I believe that Judge Brimmer provided a well-reasoned opinion, which stated that the Forest Service circumvented Congress with the roadless rule, and I hope that opinion will be reinstated by the Supreme Court," said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

The roadless rule has had a long and tortuous history in the courts. The Wyoming district court first enjoined enforcement of the Clinton-era rule in 2003, saying it violated the Wilderness Act and NEPA. That decision was then appealed to the Tenth Circuit. But the appeal was dismissed as moot in 2005 because during the pendency of the appeal the Forest Service adopted the state petitions rule, which superseded the roadless rule.

The state petitions rule established a process for state governors to petition the Agriculture Department to potentially open up vast areas of remote national forest lands in their respective states to road building, energy exploration and other activities. The rule gave state governors the option to either keep their wilderness lands roadless or open them up to development.

In 2006 a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California reinstated the roadless rule, despite the fact that the Wyoming district court had found that the rule violated federal law (see Daily GPI, Sept. 21, 2006). That set the stage for the state of Wyoming to once again renew its challenge of the roadless rule.

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