Trampling the Roadless Travesty

By Beacon Staff

In case you missed it, on Aug.12 in Cheyenne, federal Judge Clarence Brimmer issued a permanent injunction against the Clinton Administration’s so-called “roadless rule.” The roadless rule, of course, was the “most significant public lands measures of the last century,” according to the Wilderness Society.

Or, the biggest political con job ever … as Judge Brimmer wrote: “The Forest Service, through […] the Roadless Rule, designated 58.5 million acres of National Forest land as de facto wilderness area in violation of the [1964] Wilderness Act.”

The Clinton rule has been shot down three times in U.S. District Court, with this the second time for Judge Brimmer, a Gerald Ford appointee. His first ruling against came July 2003, and was appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court by environmentalists. However, the case became moot when the Bush Administration came up with its brilliant (I’m being sarcastic) state-petition roadless policy, which in turn was shot down October 2006 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte in California.

LaPorte also re-instated the Clinton rule. Then, rather than appeal LaPorte’s decision to the Ninth Circus (oops, I mean CIRCUIT) Court, which had already upheld the Clinton rule on appeal, the geniuses running G.W. Bush’s agencies curled up like poisoned rats.

Thing is, LaPorte’s resuscitation of the Clinton rule and the government response “re-mooted” Wyoming’s complaint against the Clinton rule, so Wyoming, along with the Colorado Mining Association, sued again in January 2007.

Thank God for Wyoming. Despite having a Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal, Wyoming has fought fang and claw in court against two of the most egregious stunts pulled by Clinton’s gang: For the right to control wolves in most of the state; and not to have millions of acres of public lands locked away forever from the state’s economic base. Wyoming has a fat state budget, is rebuilding its school system, the petro and coal patches are booming – if the skiing didn’t stink, I’d move there.

Brimmer’s ruling, of course, has precipitated paroxysms of progressive pique. The New York Times cut to the heart of the matter by demanding that Congress turn “Clinton rule into firm law.” Never mind that Congress’s inability to do so was precisely why the Clinton rule came to be.

With LaPorte’s edict, the roadless battle looked to be won by the dark side. Now there are two conflicting rulings in two different court circuits (Montana is in the wrong one). If the Tenth upholds Brimmer on the merits and shoots down the Clinton rule, the conflict might either force the Supreme Court to take up the case, or simply kick the whole game back to 1998 before the Clinton rulemaking commenced.

Brimmer’s ruling doesn’t flatter the Forest Service under then-Chief Mike Dombeck. Among other things, Judge Brimmer declares the agency, “to bolster an outgoing President’s environmental legacy, rammed through an environmental agenda that itself violates the country’s well-established environmental laws.”

One item that kind of stands out comes on page 31 of 102 pages: “Many […] National Forest acres that were previously managed in Wyoming have been designated as roadless areas. As a result, there is a real and substantial possibility that forest disease, insect infestation, and wildfires from the non-managed National Forests in Wyoming will spread into Wyoming’s state forests that are contiguous to those National Forests.”

Possibility? Try fact. Huge fires burning in and out of California wilderness areas this year busted the Forest Service budget, and our local Bitterroot, Lolo and Flathead national forests are scrapping programs to make up the shortfall.

Anyone see a pattern here? Anyone thinking that maybe 58.5 million more acres of wilderness-in-fact doesn’t pass the reality test? Duh.

I suspect that Judge Brimmer’s strong language stems not only from having to go over the same issues twice, but also from the fact that he’s 86 years old, and doesn’t expect to be around when this case is finally resolved. It might be his last blast – it would be nice if this ruling becomes his lasting legacy.