A federal judge has denied the government's request that he reconsider or limit his 2008 decision to Wyoming after tossing the 2001 roadless rule nationwide -- a decision that conflicts with a California federal judge's decision upholding the rule.
Judge Clarence Brimmer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming also denied a motion by environmental groups to suspend his decision striking down the Clinton-era roadless rule while appeals continue. The roadless rule originally granted blanket protection to about 58 million acres nationwide but has been mired in legal battles.
The groups had already appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but those proceedings had been delayed while Brimmer considered the government's request, they said. While Brimmer's ruling was not a victory for environmental groups, they welcomed it, saying that the matter can now move forward in the appeals court.
Conservationists will be encouraging the Obama administration to appeal. An Agriculture Department spokesman did not return calls for comment by deadline.
Saying the Forest Service faces a "Hobbesian choice" over which of the two opposite court rulings to disobey on the roadless area conservation rule, the Bush administration last year asked both Brimmer and California Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte to suspend their injunctions because the service faces contempt of court no matter what it does.
Brimmer threw out the roadless rule in 2003, Laporte reinstated it in 2006, and Brimmer tossed it again last year.
Laporte responded by ruling in December that that the roadless rule applies to 10 Western states for now -- New Mexico and the nine states covered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- while lawsuits continue through the appeals process. But Brimmer this week refused to stay his injunction nationwide or at least outside of Wyoming pending resolution of the legal issues, saying limiting the scope to Wyoming would be "illogical."
"The Rule was enacted and enforced on a nationwide basis," he wrote. "It was not tailored to address the forests of each state as separate entities. It would make little sense, then, to tailor the remedy by limiting the injunction to the State of Wyoming. If the Rule is illegal, as this Court has found it to be, then it is illegal nationwide."
Brimmer also dismissed the conflict of his decision with Laporte's and the assertion that it puts forest rangers on the ground in an untenable position.
"While the Court appreciates the reality of the situation faced by those working for the forest service, it cannot, in good conscience, limit its injunction," he wrote. "The 2001 Roadless Rule is no more or less legal in Wyoming than it is in the Ninth Circuit or New Mexico."
Brimmer also rejected the environmental groups' request that he stay his injunction to avoid potentially irreparable injury such as oil and gas development in roadless areas while appeals are pending. Brimmer said the forests have numerous protections other than the roadless rule.
The groups seem "to assert that as soon as the Roadless Rule is lifted, a free-for-all will ensue resulting in the obliteration of our nation's forests," Brimmer wrote. "This is simply not the case. Conversely, every day the Roadless Rule remains in effect is a day that our forests are at risk."
A decision is expected soon from the 9th Circuit over Laporte's ruling that reinstated the roadless rule.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that it would take a one-year delay on making any long-term decisions on the controversial Clinton-era roadless rule. Instead, the USDA secretary for the next year will have sole power to make decisions on building roads and harvesting timber on nearly all of the areas covered by the 2001 rule. Brimmer's decision will not affect that directive.
Click here to read Brimmer's decision.