CHEYENNE, Wyo. A few rural counties from around the West say they support the state of Wyoming's efforts to overturn the Clinton-era ban of development on millions of acres of national forest land. The counties say the roadless ban is preventing harvest of trees killed by forest fires.
Mineral County, Mont.; Grant County, Ore.; and Siskiyou County, Calif., last week filed a proposed brief with U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne. They argue that the roadless ban is stopping the harvest of trees killed by fire and insects.
This is the second time Brimmer has presided over a challenge brought by the state of Wyoming to the Clinton roadless rule. The rule, enacted in the last days of that administration, placed more than 50 million acres of federal land off-limits to new road construction and other development.
In Wyoming's first legal challenge, Brimmer ruled in 2003 that the Clinton roadless rule was invalid nationwide.
The Bush administration came out with a new roadless policy before an appeals court in Denver ruled whether Brimmer's ruling was correct. Wyoming filed a second challenge to the Clinton rule this year after a federal court in California rejected the Bush administration roadless rule, bringing the Clinton rule back into play.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials have said they oppose the roadless rule because they believe forest management should be decided at a local level.
Scott Horngren, a Portland, Ore., lawyer, represents the three counties seeking to be heard in Brimmer's court.
"I think it indicates that this case is very important around the West," Horngren said of the counties' interest. "And because these lands cover vast areas of the western national forests, the counties are very concerned with how these lands are going to be managed."
Horngren said thousands of acres of federal roadless areas went up in smoke in forest fires this summer. "And under the Clinton roadless rule, none of that timber in those roadless areas can be salvaged," he said.
Officials in Grant County, Ore., are eager to see salvage logging of trees burned in a forest fire in the area, Horngren said. And he said officials in Mineral County, Mont., are interested in seeing the salvage logging of forests that burned in the Lolo National Forest.
Jim Angell, managing attorney with Earthjustice in Denver, said Friday that he intends to oppose the counties' request to enter the lawsuit.
Angell, who represents a coalition of environmental groups that support the roadless rule, contends the counties missed the deadline to try to enter the case.
Both Earthjustice and the federal government are also opposing a request from the Colorado Mining Association to try to enter the case. Brimmer hasn't ruled yet whether to exclude the association.
The Denver-based association says the Clinton roadless ban threatens the development of essential minerals on federal lands.
"We want to make sure that if there is some injunctive relief granted against the rule, that it also applies beyond the borders of Wyoming and embraces Colorado as well," Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said. "The concerns that we have about the roadless rule are the same we think as those articulated by the state of Wyoming."
Other parties that want to be heard in support of Wyoming's position in the case include the state of Idaho.