Judge revives roadless rule
A federal judge on Wednesday reinstated President Clinton's 2001 roadless rule that prohibits logging and other development on national forest roadless areas.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco could impact two controversial roadless-area salvage sales in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, where logging is under way.
Laporte found that a 2005 Bush administration move that replaced Clinton's rule as part of a court settlement violated federal law by failing to perform environmental assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act and by failing to consult wildlife agencies as required by the Endangered Species Act.
"Defendants are enjoined from taking any further action contrary to the Roadless Rule without undertaking environmental analysis consistent with this opinion," Laporte wrote.
Bush's rule had opened roadless areas to logging, although it allowed state governors to petition to preserve the roadless sites.
Clinton's rule put 58.5 million acres of national forest inventoried roadless areas off-limits to development. There are nearly 2 million such acres in Oregon's national forests, including some 368,000 acres in the Rogue River-Siskiyou forest. The inventoried roadless areas are in blocks of more than 5,000 acres.
At issue locally are the Mike's Gulch salvage sale in the Illinois Valley Ranger District and the Blackberry salvage sale in the Gold Beach Ranger District. Both are in roadless areas.
"Our attorneys are reviewing the court ruling and its impacts now," forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said early Wednesday afternoon.
Burel said there are no plans for further salvage projects in the nearly half-million acres burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire.
The Mike's Gulch sale called for harvesting 9.36 million-board-feet of fire-killed timber on 251 acres. The nearly 8-million-board-foot Blackberry unit covers about 274 acres.
Logging started this summer on both sales, which were purchased by Silver Creek Logging Co. of Merlin. Both require no road building in the roadless areas and must be logged by helicopter.
Timber cutting has been completed on the Mike's Gulch unit, where yarding is expected to continue through mid-October, Burel said. Timber fallers have been cutting fire-killed trees on the Blackberry sale for several weeks, she said.
"All the road work for both sales is outside the timber sale," she said. "There has been some improvement to a helicopter landing but that is outside the inventoried roadless area."
Steve Holmer, communications coordinator for the Unified Forest Defense Campaign in Washington, D.C., said it was a moot point whether roads were being built in the two sales.
"The 2001 roadless rule said there had to be a very clear fuel reduction or restoration purpose before a roadless area could be logged," he told the Mail Tribune. "In our view, these sales (Mike's Gulch and Blackberry) clearly fall outside of that."
Salvage opponents say removing the dead timber destroys the roadless characteristics, and that a new forest is already emerging out of the ashes in the form of new seedlings.
"The roadless rule is pretty clear that commercial logging for the sake of commercial logging is not allowed and this is what these were," he said. "It's clear they broke the law and should have known better."
He expects the Bush administration to appeal Wednesday's ruling.
Plaintiffs in the case seeking to restore the 2001 roadless rule include the governors of Oregon, Washington, California and New Mexico as well as 20 environmental groups, including the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Siskiyou Regional Education Center in Grants Pass.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski praised Laporte's decision and urged the federal government not to appeal.
"Today's ruling is a significant victory for our efforts to protect nearly two million acres of roadless areas," he said. "These two million acres offer some of the best hunting and fishing in our state, and should be preserved as part of every Oregonian's natural heritage."
Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, urges Uncle Sam to appeal. His group would join as interveners in the case, he said.
He observed that when the 2001 roadless rule was being created, the Clinton administration refused to allow then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber special status to participate in its creation. Not allowing western governors to participate led to a federal court judge in Wyoming to rule the 2001 rule illegal, ultimately resulting in the 2005 rule, West said.
"The Bush administration allowed governors to petition, making them a partner in the decision in how these important lands are to be managed," he said. "It's political posturing that several new western governors chose to litigate."
Noting that several large wildfires in recent years, including the Biscuit fire, started in wilderness or roadless areas, West said he questions the motives of both environmental groups and the governors in opposing the 2005 rule.
"The fact a judge has reinstated the old rule which has been replaced with a more open public process that partners with governors is beyond logic," he said, adding, "I'm sure this will be appealed."