In 1997, Forest Service Supervisor Gloria Flora banned oil and gas exploration in Lewis and Clark National Forest for up to 15 years. She cited overwhelming citizen opposition to drilling on the Rocky Mountain Front, and said that exploration would harm the public's psychological and spiritual connection with the land (HCN, 10/13/97: Forest Service acts to preserve 'the Front'). Immediately, the Independent Petroleum Association of America sued the Forest Service, claiming psychological harm is not a legal basis for leasing decisions. A lower court rejected the industry's case, and on Nov. 14, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the group's appeal. That means the 1.8 million acres along the Rocky Mountain Front will continue to be protected from development.
"I am absolutely delighted," says Gloria Flora from her home near Helena. "This says to (national forest) supervisors that it's OK to make a decision based on people's sense of place."
Industry representatives maintain that Flora's decision was illegal. "We'll keep tilting at this windmill until we find a way to go to court and win," says William Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented the petroleum industry.
The foundation may get a break soon. A provision in the House energy bill would prevent forest supervisors from making decisions about oil and gas development. If the Senate upholds this portion of the bill, conservationists speculate that oil and gas drilling will increase in national forests.