Appeals court backs roadless management plan
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A federal appeals court has rejected environmentalist arguments that a system for managing roadless areas in Idaho violates the Endangered Species Act.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous ruling by a federal judge, who threw out an environmentalist lawsuit against Idaho's roadless regime in 2011.
The U.S. Forest Service relied on an "inclusive, thorough and transparent process" to approve the system and its decision was "free of legal error," according to the 9th Circuit's opinion.
The controversy relates to a law passed in 2001 that shields the nationwide inventory of roadless areas from logging and other activities.
Several years later, the U.S. Forest Service adopted a new strategy that allowed states to tailor the management of roadless areas within their borders.
Idaho developed a system in which roadless areas were divided into five categories with varying levels of protection from logging and road building.
After studying the effects on endangered species and the environment, the Forest Service approved the new regime for Idaho in 2008.
However, several environmental groups challenged the rule in court, claiming the reviews were unlawfully inadequate.
Environmental groups claimed a "biological opinion" that studied effects on protected grizzly beards and caribou improperly relied on the Forest Service's promises not to disturb their core habitat.
Chief U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill found that such commitments were allowed to be considered in the biological opinion. He also rejected arguments that the agency underestimated logging levels under the new regime.