U. S. Supreme Court turns down suit on Pres. Clinton’s roadless rule. It is now law of the land for sure

A big victory for conservation after years of political then legal wrangling-

For many years U.S. national forest users battled over development of those areas with no roads (“roadless areas”).  As the more economically valuable roadless area were developed first, those that remained were usually developed only because of ever increasing  federal subsidies. Roads in steep, rocky places were also very costly to maintain. These high, dry, steep, remote, often cold, roadless areas tended to also be more scenic than average, at least as long as big logging roads were not pushed through them.

Working to save individual roadless areas from dismemberment motivated many grassroots conservationists, including yours truly. It was my major commitment of time as a volunteer.

Those who wanted to protect the rest of roadless areas from roads won a big, but insecure victory near the end of the Clinton Administration. The Administration ended the building of new permanent roads and many other developments in the remaining roadless areas. The areas were not closed to off-road vehicles nor managed under the standards of congressional designated Wilderness Areas, however.

Nevertheless, the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association sued, saying the U.S. Forest Service was in effect creating Wilderness areas without the consent of Congress — a law ought to be passed if this was to be done, they argued.

Both the 9th and 10th U.S. Courts of Appeal rejected the plaintiff’s arguments.  The plaintiffs tried to appeal to the Supreme Court, but the high court has just announced they will not hear their appeal. As a result, the Clinton roadless rule now stands indefinitely.

Most conservation organizations are joyful, though off-road vehicle groups are not because they tended to see the Rule as “a camel’s nose” rule that would somehow eventually turn these areas into Wilderness ares where their vehicles would be prohibited. In fact, the opposite is probably true. With the removal of a threat of heavy development of these areas there is less grassroots incentive to push for Wilderness bills to make protection from development completely secure.

A few states, like Idaho, under temporary governor Jim Risch, worked to create their own roadless area protection/development plan for the state. Idaho’s plan moved rapidly and was incorporated some time ago into administrative law now enshrined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

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Here is a link to a web page I put up back in 2005 about the Bonneville Peak roadless area in SE Idaho, one of many hundreds of roadless areas around the country.





  1. Joseph Allen Avatar
    Joseph Allen

    Great news….anything that can remove public lands from the miners, loggers, developers and welfare ranchers, the better off, of what is left of wild places, will be. Too bad I am not President; I’d designate those lands as National Monuments with the stroke of a pen (like Teddy did).

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Wonderful news.

  3. Salle Avatar

    Some responses…

    McEntee: Roadless decision a thing of beauty for Utah


    1. JB Avatar


      1. Salle Avatar

        I’ve been holding my breath on this issue since it became a topic for discussion. Makes my day.

        1. JB Avatar

          That’s a loooong time to hold your breath, Salle. 😉

          1. Salle Avatar

            It sure was… figuratively speaking, of course. At least now I can exhale with some sense of relief.

  4. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe


  5. Louise Kane Avatar

    OK JB there is some good news!

  6. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Somewhere in Wyoming, a Governor who used to be a US Attorney is getting drunk and throwing things…

    1. skyrim Avatar

      LOL! Yup! I’ll bet your right Cody.

  7. Sam Parks Avatar

    What does this mean for the Alaska lawsuit? Does the fact that they chose not to hear the appeal set precedent?

  8. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    Some say President Clinton was the best environmental president we ever had. The article states all the laws he past for the environmental. The rdwood trres were one, Hawaiian islands was another, the introduction of wolves was Bruce Babbit sec. of interior former president of wilderness society, wow. Good going.

    1. Mal Adapted Avatar
      Mal Adapted

      And, he designated the Hanford Reach of the Columbia river, with adjacent lands, a National Monument. I had a spear-carrier role in that campaign. My influence was infinitesimal, but the outcome was supremely satisfying nonetheless.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I pretty much agree Richie G, though I am older and remember Jimmary Carter. He was very good on these issues too.

      The Republicans didn’t turn into the party of bulldozer’s and big oil until Ronald Reagan.

      1. CodyCoyote Avatar

        For its small population and few electoral votes, the state of Wyoming has had a hugely disproportionate and very negative influence on the course of environmental legislation and policy in Washington D.C. , all spawned at the Republican altar of vivisecting the planet for profit.

        By which I mean James Gaius Watt, who was Reagan’s Grim Reaper at the helm of the Dept. of Interior and actually proposed mining and logging inside Yellowstone among a thousand other indiscretions. It took Watt to make Malcolm Wallop and especially Al Simpson look like moderates on the environment, which they most decidedly were not, especially when they thought nobody was looking. We sent Richard B. ” Darth ” Cheney to D.C. as our Congressman for 13 years where he bloomed into Darth as Prime Minister for Bush II , leading a frontal attack on all things environmental . Hard to find a quiet meadow anywhere that Cheney didn’t try to exploit. We sent the dubious Johnny Burton from being a state agency head in Cheyenne to D.C. to become head of the federal Minerals Management Service at DoI, where scandals became the norm , and the US Treasury lost billions in royalties owed. Burton was replaced by former Cheney apprentice Randall Luthi who took over MMS and all but gift wrapped the BP Gulf bllowout with his fast track L’aissez faire policies. Two of Wyoming’s current Congress reps are also from the Cheny school of Sith Dark Lord training…Senator J. ” Doctor No ” Barrasso and rep Cyndy Lou Who Lummis, who was formerly Wyoming’s state treasurer , state legislator, and a Cheney handmaiden. Barrasso and Lummis are true enemies of sound environmental policy by being totally beholden to corporate industry. Finally , Wyoming’s current Governor Matt Mead, himself a grandson of former US Senator Cliff Hansen who railed against everything green in the 70’s , wants to pimp out every molecule of hydrocarbon that Wyoming has , as fast as he can get it loaded on the train cars or shoved into the pipelines.

        Space here prevents me from litanizing the lesser lords of industry and Robber Barons that Wyoming has spawned since the late 60’s , but they are rife. Even our Democratic party leaders have been too compliant towards industry over the years, but those were high misdemeanors, not capital crimes.

        Wyoming is a Second World energy and mineral colony ruled over by multinational corporations, and our politicians over the years made sure that was a given.

        If Ayn Rand had lived, she would be crowned Queen of Wyoming, regrettably ,if asked.

        We ask her spirit for guidance each and every day in my wretched little colonial state , regrettably.

    3. aves Avatar

      While Clinton never did much that public polling didn’t support, he did at least surround himself with people who had an appreciation and understanding of our natural resources. He looks better and better when compared to both his successors.

      But Clinton refused to spend any political capital on climate change and his involvement in gray wolf reintroduction gets repeatedly exaggerated. The hard work of getting wolves reintroduced took place long before he was even in office. Clinton’s contributions are limited to not stopping the plans and to showing up for a photo op at Yellowstone.

      Giving Clinton credit for any reintroductions of endangered species that occurred during his time in office is akin to thanking Ronald Reagan (red wolves), and George H.W. Bush (black-footed ferrets and California condors). The only difference is that the Bush and Reagan didn’t show up for photos.

      1. Louise Kane Avatar

        I worked in Washington under the Clinton administration and while not initially a fan, I became one. Mostly because of the administration’s willingness to embrace progressive policy measures to advance protecting habitats of all kind, marine and terrestrial. and you are correct, he did surround himself with people who had an understanding and appreciation of america’s natural resources. I had a great deal of respect for him because of that.

        Contrast this stance to the appointment of Salazar in DOI – something I’ll never forgive, respect or come to terms with.
        Perhaps the worst appointment, rife with conflict of interest, ever made.

        1. Barb Rupers Avatar
          Barb Rupers

          Was James Watt better than Salizar?

          1. elk275 Avatar

            How about Gail Norton?

            1. Barb Rupers Avatar
              Barb Rupers

              Good question!

              Bruce Babbit was the last DOI Secretary that helped public lands, IMO.

            2. Immer Treue Avatar
              Immer Treue

              Geesh, forgot about her.

          2. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue


  9. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    opps for the environment,sorry

  10. BobsYourUncle Avatar

    This reaffirms how lame it was for the conservative Idaho environmental groups to go along with Risch’s “Idaho roadless rule,” which weakened protections from the Clinton rule.

    Thanks to that rule, Idaho’s roadless areas are left with weaker protections than the rest of the country.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Governor Risch of Idaho rushed it through. I didn’t think it all that terrible for what is possible in Idaho.

      Nevertheless, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition to its credit has litigated it and litigated it. The matter is still not settled in the courts despite this victory on roadless areas in the rest of the states that have them.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I want to add that one of the biggest reasons why the roadless rule was possible is that timber sales that lost a lot of money, e.g., timber sales in roadless areas, were a drag on the federal budget. Conservationists increasingly made that argument with success. Once the money was withdrawn, the biggest threat in terms of acreage to roadless areas — timbering — very often disappeared anyway.

      The State of Idaho doesn’t have the money, or the sawmills, to really savage the roadless areas.

      1. Salle Avatar

        Idaho may not have the money in the state’s funds but there surely are some friends of senator wide-stance and others of his ilk who would gladly cough up the funds to devastate the roadless ares in Idaho.

        1. Louise Kane Avatar

          LOL was just thinking the same thing and they sure don’t have the money to wipe out packs of wolves using helicopters and trained marskmen…. but they know where to go to get it, i.e Lolo wolves


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan