A California federal court judge has tossed out the Bush administration’s plan that governs activities in “roadless” areas in national forests and grasslands nationwide, replacing it with an earlier plan put together by President Clinton’s administration, the American Motorcyclist Association said in a press release Friday.
While the almost 60 million acres is called roadless, it contains thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails used by motorcyclists, all-terrain vehicle users, horse riders, hikers and others. At stake, potentially, is exactly how off-highway vehicles will be allowed to use trails in roadless areas. In some cases, those trails are currently open to off-highway uses. In others, the chance of new trails ever opening is in question.
“We're analyzing the judge's ruling now to determine what affect it may have on recreational opportunities for off-road riders,” said Edward Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. “It's a complex issue that promises to become even more contentious, and we plan to ensure that riders’ voices are heard.”
Six different federal judges have ruled on this issue, three siding with the Clinton administration approach, and three siding with the Bush administration, leaving many people to believe the issue will ultimately go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the latest ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte, in a 53-page decision issued September 20, ruled that the Bush administration’s rule that allows state governors to petition the federal government to suggest how roadless areas in their states should be managed violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. The judge said the Bush plan fails to adequately analyze the removal of environmental and endangered species protections that were provided by the earlier Clinton plan.
Three states opposing the Bush plan had filed suit claiming that by asking governors to file petitions on land-use, the Bush administration is failing to comply with environmental analyses required by the National Environmental Protection Act. Judge LaPorte agreed. The Bush administration, however, said the plan all along was to do the analyses on a state-by-state basis.
In January 2001, President Bill Clinton adopted new rules that put environmental sustainability at the top of the priority list in forest planning to ban road-building and commercial activities on almost 60 million acres of roadless land. That appeared to mark a dramatic shift from the Forest Service’s original mandate of managing public lands for multiple uses, from conservation to recreation. And it seemed likely that motorized recreation opportunities could shrink to a tiny fraction of existing levels when those rules were implemented. In 2004, the Bush administration put in place a new rule that gave governors 18 months to let the federal government know how they would like the “roadless” areas managed in their states. That led to the lawsuit by the states, and LaPorte's decision.