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State taking roadless rule to U.S. Supreme Court

Feb 26, 2012 - Bob Moen, Associated Press

CHEYENNE (AP) -- The state of Wyoming will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review its challenge to a 2001 federal rule barring development on nearly 50 million acres roadless areas in national forests.

"The roadless rule has seriously impacted Wyoming, our people, our industries and the health of our forests," Gov. Matt Mead said Friday in announcing his decision. "Given the consequences it is important to ask the Supreme Court to hear this case."

The rule enacted under former President Bill Clinton has been upheld by both the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit in separate cases.

Wyoming had argued that the definition of "roadless lands" is synonymous with "wilderness lands," and that the 1964 Wilderness Act states that only Congress can designate wilderness lands.

Supporters of the rule say the nation's forests need protection from development.

Court challenges by Wyoming and others had left the fate of the federal roadless rule in question, prompting Idaho and Colorado to try to craft their own rules. Colorado is awaiting approval from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on its proposed policy, which would carve out exceptions in the national policy to allow for things including potential ski resort expansions or methane vents at coal mines.

The U.S. Forest Service currently manages more than 190 million acres of land used for multiple purposes that must comply with strict rules on land use changes spelled out in the federal Wilderness Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Wyoming originally won a favorable decision in its challenge from Cheyenne-based U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer, who ruled that the Clinton administration rule created a de facto wilderness area.

But the 10th Circuit overruled Brimmer.

Mead said in a statement that when the rule was put in place the "concerns of the people of Wyoming about the significant adverse effects of the rule were ignored."

He said petitioning the Supreme Court was a way "to make our voice heard."

Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney who has worked on the case for the past decade, said the group is prepared to defend the circuit court decisions in the case and make sure the forest protections stand.

"Here we got a situation where both the 9th and 10th circuits agreed that the roadless rule is legitimate, and both of them rejected just about every argument that Wyoming raises here," Preso said.

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