Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Battle to Protect 50 Million Forest Acres May Finally Be Won After 16 Years

Popular
Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski (left) stands in Colorado's Sunset Roadless Area. Wild Earth Guardians / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

A decades-long fight over a landmark rule protecting wild forests nationwide took another successful–and possibly final–turn last week after a U.S. district court threw out a last-ditch attack by the state of Alaska against the Roadless Rule.

Adopted in the closing days of the Clinton administration, the Roadless Rule prohibits most logging and road construction in roadless areas of national forests. These lands, today equaling about 50 million acres or about the size of Nebraska, are some of the wildest places left in America.


Upon its passage, the rule was overwhelmingly popular with the American people, including those who like to hike, camp, fish and recreate among the trees in wild, unmarred areas. The Forest Service also liked the rule, since, at the time, the agency had a multibillion-dollar backlog on maintenance for more than 400,000 miles of existing roads, and it wasn't eager to add even more to its workload.

Yet, despite its popularity, state political leaders with ties to the logging and timber industries hated the new rule. Even before President Clinton left office, they began their attack. The Bush administration, which took office just eight days later, failed to come to the rule's defense.

"It created this vacuum," said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo, one of the legal architects of the organization's Roadless Rule strategy. "So Earthjustice stepped in."

Tom Waldo, one of the legal architects of Earthjustice's Roadless Rule strategy, walks through a field of fireweed near Juneau, Alaska.Michael Penn

What followed was a 16-year legal battle involving a number of Earthjustice attorneys from the Denver, Bozeman, Seattle and Juneau offices, dozens of courtrooms and judges, and thousands of hours of legal wrangling.

"When we first started this, it never crossed my mind we would still be litigating the rule 16 years later," said Waldo.

Over the next two decades, three main legal battles emerged over the Roadless Rule. One challenge came from the state of Idaho, which has the most roadless public forest lands of any of the lower 48. The second attack came from the state of Wyoming. Lastly, the state of Alaska challenged the rule.

In addition to these legal attacks, the Bush administration attacked the rule politically, first by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the rule in 2003, and then by repealing the rule nationwide in 2005. The Tongass exemption was a big deal because the Tongass isn't just any old forest. It's America's largest and wildest, home to nearly one-third of all old-growth temperate rainforest remaining in the entire world. Unfortunately, it's also the only national forest in the country where loggers still focus primarily on clear-cutting old-growth forests.

With each challenge, Earthjustice stepped in to vigorously defend the Roadless Rule. In some cases, Earthjustice attorneys and clients were the only ones providing the defense.

"The odds were long that we would win every one of these cases," said Waldo. Still, we had the law and the American people on our side. Earthjustice began to win, one case at a time.

"It was kind of a crescendo," said Waldo.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state of Idaho in 2002, upholding the Roadless Rule. Then, in 2009, the Ninth Circuit struck down the Bush administration's attempt to repeal the Roadless Rule. In 2011, the Tenth Circuit appeals court ruled against the state of Wyoming, upholding the rule. And in July 2015, after years of Earthjustice litigation, the Ninth Circuit court declared the Tongass exemption illegal.

Last week, the final challenge to the Roadless Rule was shot down, after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that each of the state of Alaska's claims lacked merit. The state could appeal the decision, or President Trump could try to reverse it. However, because the rule is widely supported, provides immense economic and public benefit and has been upheld by multiple courts at many levels, anyone who tries to get rid of those protections will face an intense uphill legal and political battle.

"When you have this 17-year-long experience of consistently having the courts uphold the rule, it helps build a track record of success and popularity that will hopefully help carry us through any challenges and provide a solid foundation for the rule's continued success," said Waldo.

Mist hangs over the Tongass temperate rain forest in Alaska. The Bush administration tried to undermine the Roadless Rule by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the rule.LEEPRINCE / SHUTTERSTOCK

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Moroccan patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus disease celebrate with medical staff as they leave the hospital in Sale, Morocco, on April 3, 2020. AFP / Getty Images

By Tom Duszynski

The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.

In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.

Read More Show Less
Reef scene with crinoid and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A daughter touches her father's head while saying goodbye as medics prepare to transport him to Stamford Hospital on April 02, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He had multiple COVID-19 symptoms. John Moore / Getty Images

Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Four rolls of sourdough bread are arranged on a surface. Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny and food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Zulfikar Abbany

Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A coral reef in Egypt's Red Sea. Tropical ocean ecosystems could see sudden biodiversity losses this decade if emissions are not reduced. Georgette Douwma / Stone / Getty Images

The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.

Read More Show Less