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A best-ever move

The nation’s wildlands won this week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the Clinton administration’s Roadless Rule, which protected 50 million acres of roadless areas in national forests from development. Two lower circuit courts had previously upheld the rule.

Enacted in 2001, it prevented additional road building on federal forests that were already struggling to pay for the upkeep of existing extensive road systems. The rule’s net effect is to protect vulnerable wildlife habitats, to leave natural areas undisturbed and preserve recreational opportunities on public lands.

Extractive interests in Wyoming, one of the states that challenged the rule, and their co-litigant, the Colorado Mining Association, are howling about the impact of the court’s decision on mining and energy exploration.

Of course the decision may impact those activities, but it also will have the beneficial effect of protecting recreation and wildlands for future generations.

In 2008 in response to the Clinton rule and to the concerns of the state’s extractive industries, Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch negotiated with the federal government to allow the state to substitute its own roadless rules to protect more than 9 million acres of roadless forest.

A U.S. district court upheld the state’s plan in 2011. Some areas received more protection than they would have under the Clinton rule while others received less. It remains to be seen what, if any, effect the new U.S. Supreme Court decision will have on the Idaho plan.

One thing’s for sure. It will be up to future generations to judge the wisdom of protecting wildlands. We predict they’ll find it was one of the nation’s best-ever moves.

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