Last Friday, in an historic decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the so-called “Roadless Rule” which protected millions of acres of primitive Forest Service lands that had as yet remained untouched by chain saws, bulldozers or roads. The rule, issued by the Clinton administration and supported by an unprecedented number of Americans who wrote the Forest Service to request the rule, had been tied up in litigation since its issuance in early 2000. The decision is a huge victory for America’s forests.
But most of the reporting on this important decision missed the fact that it has broader implications which extend far beyond the Forest Service lands – it’s rationale extends to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands as well. That’s because the reasoning and the statutes on which the court relied to hold that the Forest Service has the authority to protect wilderness-eligible, roadless lands apply equally to the statutes that govern the BLM. Here’s an excerpt from the court’s decision:
Under [the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act’s] statutory scheme, which supplemented the broad authority granted in the [Forest Service’s ] Organic Act, Congress clearly authorized the Forest Service to regulate NFS lands for multiple uses, including those protected by the Roadless Rule, such as “outdoor recreation,” “watershed,” and “wildlife and fish purposes.” 16 U.S.C. § 528. We therefore conclude that the Forest Service had the authority—under the Organic Act and MUSYA—to promulgate a rule protecting NFS lands through restrictions on commercial logging and road construction.
The BLM is also governed by the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, and its organic act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, also gives the BLM broad discretion to determine the uses that will occur on the lands under its jurisdiction.
That means that if the Interior Department decided to implement the Wild Lands Policy, or any other policy meant to protect the BLM’s last remaining wild lands, it could clearly do so. The decision blows a mile-wide hole in all the bluster we heard from congressional wilderness foes about the so-called “illegality” of the Interior Department’s Wild Lands policy. We thought that the bluster was bunk then; now the Tenth Circuit has said so as well.
So it remains to be seen: Will the Obama administration now walk the clear path forward to protecting deserving BLM lands? Congress has clearly proven itself incapable of doing so. Yet someone has to, there’s just too much at stake.
And now there’s really no reason not to walk that path.