Western AGs score major environmental victory

By Chris Rizo | Aug 6, 2009

Jerry Brown (D)

Rob McKenna (R)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-Four Western state attorneys general have won what they and environmentalists are calling a major victory in the effort to preserve federal forest lands.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with California Attorney General Jerry Brown in his lawsuit aimed at protecting 40 million acres of national forest land from development, logging and mining.

The San Francisco-based appeals court's decision effectively reinstates a 2001 rule that bans road building and commercial logging on 40 million acres of pristine and near-pristine national forest land in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

The rule, adopted near the end of the Clinton administration, had been repealed by the Bush administration.

Brown called the ruling a "profoundly important" one for his state.

"It brings to a halt the ill-considered development plans of the Bush administration and preserves for generations to come 4.4 million acres of prime California forest," the Democrat said.

In 2005, after the rule was repealed, Brown and the attorneys general from New Mexico, Oregon and Washington filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District of California to reinstate the rule.

The trial court found that the rule had been illegally repealed in part because the Bush administration failed to consider the environmental consequences. The case was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Today's victory is sweet for those of us who want to see our forests conserved for future generations," said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican. "The conservation of natural resources is something that all state citizens strongly support. And that's why we've made the legal defense of our environment a top priority."

The environmental group Earthjustice said that the ruling protects the majority of national forest roadless areas.

"Americans love the wild forests and rivers our country has been blessed with," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. "From campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen, and bird watchers to cities and towns that rely on clean, mountain-fed drinking water, we all stand and cheer that the court today protected our national roadless areas."

For his part, President Barack Obama has ordered a one-year moratorium on most road-building on federal forest lands.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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