SALT LAKE CITY — Environmentalists are celebrating the Monday decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand the federal "roadless rule" that leaves protections in place for 45 million acres of national forest lands, including those in Utah.
The forest management rule limits road building and timber harvesting on undeveloped public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association brought a challenge to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, asserting it unfairly jeopardized multiple industries and hampered economic development.
Legal challenges also rested on the premise that by declaring so much land essentially off-limits to development, the federal agency was creating "wilderness" on its own, usurping the power vested in Congress through the 1964 Wilderness Act.
The rule, however, withstood judicial scrutiny in separate cases heard before both the 9th and 10th circuit courts of appeals and was again left in place with the highest court's refusal to take up the matter on Monday, resolving what supporters say has been a decade of uncertainty over management of inventoried roadless areas.
Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the preservation of the rule ensures continued protections for landscapes critical on a variety of fronts.
"This decision ensures the future integrity of Forest Service lands which are crucial to protecting our water, our wildlife habitat and awe-inspiring places of natural beauty," she said. "Importantly, the appeals court confirmed yet again that federal agencies — the Forest Service or BLM — have the clear authority to protect the wild and natural character of public lands despite political pressure to open too many of these scenic lands to roads, mining, drilling and other development."
Her sentiments were echoed by one of the nation's leading conservation organizations.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court affirms the value of backcountry areas in sustaining healthy and secure habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Joel Webster, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Western Lands. “These are values hunters and anglers both have benefited from and supported for years.
“Sound roadless conservation policies safeguard big-game habitat security, productive trout and salmon fisheries and our sporting traditions,” Webster said. “The 2001 roadless rule remains a strong mechanism for conserving America’s outdoor heritage. With the fall hunting season upon us, sportsmen can celebrate this legal victory by enjoying our favorite pastimes on America’s prime publicly owned hunting and fishing lands.”