State Appeals Roadless Rule to D.C. Circuit
November 6, 2017 (Juneau, AK)—In the final days of the President Clinton administration, the United States Department of Agriculture adopted one of the most far reaching land management rules of all time when it placed 58 million acres of National Forest into a protected classification that prohibits timber harvest, road construction, and indirectly nearly all development. This single action removed two percent of the entire United States land mass from the pool of lands that can be economically developed nationwide. The State today appealed the district’s court unfavorable decision upholding the rule to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Since our prior agreement with the federal government exempting Alaska was dismantled by the Ninth Circuit, the State was left with no recourse but to continue its challenge to the Roadless Rule,” said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.
“This rule has an enormous negative impact on the Tongass National Forest and Southeast’s economy. It’s important we keep fighting to preserve Alaskans livelihoods and options for responsible development,” said Governor Bill Walker.
Alaska was disproportionately affected by the Roadless Rule as the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the country and includes by far more restricted Roadless areas than anywhere else. Largely as a result of this rule, the State’s once vibrant timber industry is struggling to survive. Utility companies, mining enterprises, and southeast communities that may want to improve access through road construction have also faced significant harm.
Following the 2001 promulgation of the Roadless Rule, the State of Alaska, joined by many of the groups that have been harmed, brought suit against the rule, which resulted in a settlement to exempt Alaska from the rule. Unfortunately for the State and other plaintiffs, the exemption was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The State brought the current case before the D.C. District Court in 2011 after the Alaska District Court overturned the State’s exemption.
Among other claims, the State contends in the current lawsuit that the Roadless Rule violates the Tongass Timber Reform Act requiring USDA to seek to meet the demand for timber from the Tongass.
Much to the State’s disappointment, on September 20 of this year, Judge Leon ruled that although “the fact that the USDA issued a rule affecting a whopping 2 percent of all land in the United States in less than 15 months is alarming, especially in light of the crawling pace at which administrative agencies typically conduct their business…”, the Roadless Rule does not violate the law and is valid. The State today has filed a Notice of Appeal and will seek review of Judge Leon’s ruling in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.