The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced it will not consider an appeal of the so-called "roadless rule" for national forests, a move that means permanent protection for about 45 million acres of undeveloped public land.
The controversial rule was enacted in 2001 under President Clinton and affected about 58 million acres, including 62,000 acres in the Superior National Forest, much of it adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Lake and Cook counties.
The rule also covers 69,000 acres in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. The Chippewa National Forest is not affected.
The roadless rule designation is not the same as official federal wilderness. Instead, it prohibits new roads and most logging but allows motorized recreation, such as snowmobiles and ATVs. It also allows mining, and some tree cutting is allowed for fire prevention efforts.
"We've already been managing these lands this way, so we don't expect any major changes now," Suzanne Flory, spokeswoman for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, told the News Tribune.
"It appears that this means it's now permanent," she said.
The original rule affected about 58.5 million acres of roadless areas in 38 states, most of it in Alaska and Rocky Mountain states, totaling about 30 percent of the 190 million-acre National Forest System.
Since then, two states -- Colorado and Idaho -- have opted to pass their own roadless rules, an option allowed under the original Clinton-era plan.
That leaves about 45 million acres in 36 states covered by the roadless rule.
The roadless rule was enacted late in the Clinton administration, then was untracked by the Bush administration before ending up in the courts.
The high-court decision lets stand a year-old ruling by Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the roadless plan.
The state of Wyoming and a Colorado mining association had asked the Supreme Court to consider the case, claiming the rule unduly limited industrial development by imposing de facto wilderness regulations without Congressional approval.
Conservation groups consider the lands affected the last, best federal land left undeveloped but, until now, unprotected.
"This rule protects wildlife habitat, leaves forest open for recreation and protects water quality in forests that are the source of drinking water for millions of Americans," Mike Anderson, senior research analyst for the Wilderness Society, told the News Tribune on Monday.
Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Forest Industries group, and Brenda Halter, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, did not immediately return a request to comment on the court decision.
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