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Federal Court Reinstates Roadless Rule

Earthjustice

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long-awaited, landmark decision Oct. 21, securing critical legal protections for nearly 50 million acres of pristine National Forest lands. These forests offer outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking, produce clean water for thousands of communities nationwide, and provide irreplaceable habitat for imperiled wildlife species including grizzly bears, lynx and Pacific salmon. The appellate court reversed a lower court decision and affirmed the validity of the Roadless Rule—a 2001 federal rule that protects wild national forests and grasslands from new road building, logging and development.

The appellate court ruled against the state of Wyoming and industry intervenors and in favor of conservation groups, the U.S. Forest Service, and the states of California, Oregon and Washington. This decision formally ends an injunction against the rule’s enforcement imposed by a Wyoming federal district court in 2008.

“The public forests we’ve fought so hard to protect are now safe,” said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “All Americans can now know that a key part of our nation’s natural heritage won’t be destroyed.”

The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of the most comprehensive rulemaking process in the nation’s history, including more than 2 million comments from members of the public, hundreds of public hearings and open houses, and a detailed environmental review. The rule came under relentless attack by logging and resource extraction interests, certain states and the Bush administration.

“This is a great victory for the American people who have spoken out, time and again and in record numbers, for protection of these wild public lands,” said Mike Francis with The Wilderness Society.

“Roadless areas protect our rivers and streams—protect our salmon, trout, drinking water,” said Mary Scurlock of Pacific Rivers Council. “The Roadless Rule is common-sense, and finally the question of its legality is settled.”

“Roadless areas are valuable and irreplaceable places for hikers, campers, hunters, anglers and families. They protect our water supplies. They provide room for wildlife to live and raise their young, and they will be increasingly important as safe havens for plants and animals in the face of rising temperatures and other impacts of climate change,” said Frances Hunt, director of the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats Campaign.

“Roadless areas represent the last of our wild and natural National Forest lands, providing multiple benefits including outstanding wildlife habitat, important supplies of clean water and some of the best recreation lands in the country," said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance of Laramie, Wyoming.

Lisa McGee of Wyoming Outdoor Council stressed the importance of this decision to her state. “The people of Wyoming love the outdoors—we’re hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers—and roadless areas give us the best recreation anywhere. This decision ensures that our outdoor heritage will be safeguarded.”

Earthjustice has led the legal defense of the Roadless Rule since the first attacks under the Bush/Cheney administration. Against all odds, this critical legal work has kept the Roadless Rule alive and prevented destruction of our national forests’ last great wild places.

Now, conservation, faith and recreation groups trust that the Obama administration will support and enforce the 2001 Roadless Rule as the law of the land, including defending its protections for all 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the country. That includes national forests in Alaska, currently subject to a separate legal challenge and national forests in Idaho, whose roadless area protections were weakened in 2008.

As a presidential candidate, President Barack Obama said:

“Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule—which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input—protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.”

Background on the Decision

In 2008, the State of Wyoming sued the U.S. Forest Service for a second time to invalidate the Roadless Rule (the rule had been reinstated by a federal court in California in 2006). A Wyoming federal district court enjoined the rule. Earthjustice and the U.S. Forest Service appealed that injunction to the 10th circuit. The 10th circuit joins the 9th circuit in finding the Roadless Rule legal.

In this appeal to the 10th circuit, Earthjustice represented Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife. The states of California, Oregon and Washington submitted legal papers in support of the Roadless Rule and the conservation groups’ appeal.

Two other legal actions to protect roadless areas remain pending:
• A lawsuit challenging application of the Roadless Rule to national forests in Alaska, and
• A lawsuit challenging a separate, less protective rule that applies only to federal roadless areas in Idaho.

For more information, click here.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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