Court Strikes Roadless Rule Exemption in Tongass

A divided federal appeals court has affirmed a lower-court decision that would reinstate prohibitions on road-building and timber harvests in roadless areas of the nation’s largest national forest.

In a 6-5 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not give a reasoned explanation for reversing course and creating a special exemption to the so-called “Roadless Rule” for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The majority opinion ruled the Tongass exemption invalid.

In a dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Milan Smith Jr. wrote that elections have legal consequences. In this case, Smith wrote, the department followed President George W. Bush’s policy instructions in amending the Clinton-era Roadless Rule in 2003. Smith argued the department was not “arbitrary and capricious” in making the decision.