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Know the West

Roadless -- for the seventh generation


"Roadless-less" attempts to portray a scandal that never existed in the roadless rule promulgation process (HCN, 11/9/09). The article depicts the series of judicial rulings upholding the roadless rule as merely party-line votes -- a view that discredits the federal judiciary and wrongly suggests that the rule’s persistent vitality in the courts says nothing about its underlying legitimacy. However, you failed to report that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' 2009 decision affirming reinstatement of the roadless rule was unanimously rendered by three judges appointed by Republican administrations.

Second, the article states that most comments received by the Forest Service on the draft Roadless Rule were negative, but fails to report that the vast majority (95 percent) complained that the draft rule was not protective enough. Moreover, although the article suggests that the rule was shoved down Westerners' throats, public comments received by the Forest Service from residents of all 11 Western states (except Idaho) broke sharply in favor of protecting roadless areas. It also fails to report that the 60,000 original comment letters in response to the draft roadless rule also reflected overwhelming support for protection.

Ultimately, the author argues in favor of relegating roadless protection to a state-by-state process subject to the vagaries of local politics. This approach would not only prioritize local control over federal lands that belong to all Americans, but in many cases would prioritize local control governed by minority viewpoints opposed to conservation. We can be glad that such an approach was not followed when a series of presidents issued visionary proclamations setting aside the national forests. Then, as now, such presidential acts were greeted with howls of protest from local elected officials and resource industries. They were not heeded, and today our nation is all the richer for it. There is every reason to believe the roadless rule will look equally wise to future generations.

Timothy Preso
Staff Attorney, Earthjustice
Bozeman, Montana

Ray Ring responds:

The recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling by a panel of three Republican judges merely referred back to the key 9th Circuit ruling in 2002. That ruling, as my story reports, was written by a Clinton-appointed judge who tends to think like environmentalists do. The Clinton judge, Ronald M. Gould, pointed out that roadless forests produce oxygen for humankind, for instance. Timothy Preso and Earthjustice prefer their politics (flooding the federal EIS process with comments) rather than state politics (locals working it out). They also ignore the thousands of U.S. Forest Service staffers who thought the Clinton roadless rule was made illegally. The Forest Service comment analyzers repeatedly said they're not supposed to treat the comments as a vote (majority wins).