The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule), reversing a district court decision that set it aside. Wyoming v. USDA, Nos. 08-8061, 09-8075 (10th Cir. 10/21/11). Issued in 2001, the rule prohibits road construction and reconstruction in inventoried roadless areas (IR As) in national forest wilderness areas and prohibits the cutting, sale or removal of timber from IR As, subject to limited exceptions. 66 Fed. Reg. 3,244 (1/12/01). The final rule was applicable to approximately one-third of all National Forest System lands.

In May 2001, Wyoming challenged the rule’s legality in federal court under several laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NE PA), Wilderness Act, Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984, National Forest Management Act, and Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act. Several environmental organizations intervened on behalf of the Forest Service in defense of the rule. In July 2003, the district court ruled that the Roadless Rule was promulgated in violation of NE PA and the Wilderness Act and permanently enjoined its enforcement. Defendantintervenors filed an appeal to the Tenth Circuit. Although the Service did not appeal the district court decision, it issued the State Petitions Rule in May 2005, which superseded the Roadless Rule. The Tenth Circuit then dismissed the Roadless Rule appeal as moot. Wyoming v. USDA, 414 F.3d 1207 (10th Cir. 2005).

In 2006, several states and environmental groups challenged the State Petitions Rule in federal court in California. On October 11, 2006, the district court set aside the State Petitions Rule, finding that it violated NE PA and the Endangered Species Act, and reinstated the Roadless Rule. California ex rel. Lockyer v. USDA, 459 F. Supp. 2d 874 (N.D. Cal. 2006). In 2008, Wyoming filed another complaint in federal court in Wyoming, again challenging the Roadless Rule. On August 12, 2008, the district court issued a permanent, nationwide injunction against the Roadless Rule, determining that it violated NE PA and the Wilderness Act. That ruling was appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

In a 120-page opinion, the Tenth Circuit held that the Roadless Rule did not violate NE PA or the Wilderness Rule. The court reviewed several federal statutes and a prior Ninth Circuit decision that upheld the rule, holding that Wyoming failed to demonstrate that, in promulgating the Roadless Rule, the Service violated NE PA, the Wilderness Act or any other relevant federal or state statute. The court remanded the case to the district court with orders to vacate the injunction.