The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it will not consider an appeal of the so-called roadless rule for U.S. forests, a move that means permanent protection for about 45 million acres of undeveloped public land.
The roadless rule was enacted in 2001 under then-President Bill Clinton and affected about 58 million acres, most of it in Alaska and Rocky Mountains states but also 62,000 acres in the Superior National Forest in the Northland, much of it adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Lake and Cook counties.
The rule also covers 69,000 acres in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The Chippewa National Forest is not affected.
The roadless rule is not the same as official federal wilderness. Instead, it prohibits new roads and logging but allows motorized recreation, such as snowmobiles and ATVs. It also allows mining.
"We've already been managing these lands this way, so we don't expect any major changes now," Suzanne Flory, spokeswoman for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, said. "It appears that this means it's now permanent."
The original rule affected about 58.5 million acres of roadless areas in 38 states, about 30 percent of the 190 million-acre National Forest System. Since then, two states -- Colorado and Idaho -- have opted to pass their own roadless rules, an option allowed under the original Clinton-era plan. That leaves about 45 million acres in 36 states covered by the roadless rule.
The high-court decision lets stand a year-old ruling by Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the roadless plan. Wyoming and Colorado mining associations had asked the Supreme Court to consider the case, claiming the rule unduly impacts industrial development by imposing de facto wilderness regulations without Congressional approval.
Conservation groups consider the lands affected are considered the last best federal land left undeveloped but, until now, unprotected.
"This rule protects wildlife habitat, leaves forest open for recreation and protects water quality in forests that are the source of drinking water for millions of Americans," Mike Anderson, senior research analyst for the Wilderness Society, told the News Tribune today.
Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Forest Industries group, and Brenda Halter, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, did not immediately return a request to comment on the court decision.