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Northwest La. Fish & Game Preserve Comm'n v. United States

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20171
Nos. No. 08-5039, (Fed. Cir., 07/31/2009) Aff'd

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision setting aside the U.S. Forest Service's State Petitions Rule and reinstating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, more commonly known as the "Roadless Rule," pending the Service's compliance with NEPA and the ESA. The State Petitions Rule, issued in 2005, invited states to pursue varying rules for managing roadless areas in the national forests in lieu of the nationwide protections set forth in the Roadless Rule. In so doing, the Forest Service characterized the rule as "merely procedural in nature and scope" and, therefore, determined that it was categorically excluded under NEPA. This was unreasonable. The State Petitions Rule, in effect, repealed the Roadless Rule, which the court found affords greater protections to the nation's roadless areas than those the individual state forest plans provide. In addition, by permanently removing the Roadless Rule from the Code of Federal Regulations, the State Petitions Rule did much more than establish a new procedure for the consideration of state-specific land management rules: it purported to ensure that future land management decisions would never again be constrained by the Roadless Rule and its enhanced protections for inventoried roadless areas. It was likewise unreasonable for the Forest Service to assert that the environment, listed species, and their critical habitats would be unaffected by this regulatory change. In addition, the lower court did not abuse its discretion in reinstating the Roadless Rule. The court gave meaningful consideration to the equities in the case and carefully applied the traditional balancing of the harms analysis in reaching its decision.