A district judge has rejected Alaska’s challenge to the Clinton-era administration’s roadless rule, which bars the construction of roads on 58 million acres of forest lands that are seen as critical to energy exploration and production, logging and other commercial activities.

In an eight-page opinion, Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said the claims of the state of Alaska and Alaska Forest Association against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SACC) were beyond the six-year statute of limitations.

“The court concludes that Alaska’s claims fail…because they are untimely…The six-year [statute of] limitations period…expired well before Alaska instituted the present action in 2011.” Because of this, the court granted the Department of Agriculture’s and SACC’s motion to dismiss.

“Petitioners who delay filing requests for review on their own assessment of [justiciability] do so at the risk of finding their claims time-barred,” the judge said. In the waning days of the Clinton administration, the U.S. Forest Service created de facto wilderness by prohibiting road building, logging and other development activities, such as oil and natural gas drilling, on about one-third of Forest Service lands. The rule was enacted in early 2001.

The rule has survived challenges in a number of U.S. district and appeals courts over the past decade in Wyoming, California, Idaho, Colorado and in the District of Columbia (see Daily GPI, May 21, 2012; May 17, 2012; Oct. 25, 2011).

At the center of this particular case is the Bush administration’s 2003 exemption for the vast Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska, the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres. In 2011, an Indian tribe and other groups challenged the Tongass Exemption in the District Court for the District of Alaska. The state of Alaska intervened in support of the exemption. On March 4, 2011, the court vacated the Tongass exemption and reinstated the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest. Alaska then sued to overturn the original roadless rule and Tongass exemption.

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