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Originally published Friday, October 5, 2012 at 3:58 PM

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Editorial: High court validates roadless conservation rule

The U.S. Supreme Court ended a decade of legal wrangling when it refused to review a challenge to roadless policies in national forests.

Seattle Times Editorial

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More than 20 conservation organizations and four states, including Washington, have fought a sustained legal battle to protect 46 million acres of national forestland.

They declared victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a challenge of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Nature lovers and taxpayers can celebrate the win.

The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association had argued the federal rule, from the Clinton era, effectively made parts of national forests into wilderness areas. A lower court had ruled in the state’s favor, but it was reversed on appeal.

The Supreme Court said, in effect, roadless policy is the law of the land.

That means the door might have closed on a pending legal challenge in Alaska.

Americans enjoy a rich heritage of 192 million acres of timberland. About half are open to resource extraction, with logging, mining and grazing.

Another 18 percent of the national forests are classified as wilderness areas, with access and use sharply regulated.

The balance falls into undeveloped national forests that can be used for public recreation, but they are aggressively managed. Existing uses are accounted for, but these forests are valued for producing clean water, protecting animals and providing pristine settings for hunters, anglers, off-road enthusiasts, hikers and campers.

Random intrusion into national forests produced endless, earth-encircling miles of roads. Taxpayers got hit twice. The federal government subsidized road construction for timber companies. Poorly maintained and abandoned roads destroyed salmon habitat and restoration projects.

Exceptions to the rules exist to provide for the health and fire safety of the forests.

Earthjustice and Seattle-based staff attorney Kristen Boyles were key players in this decadelong case involving multiple jurisdictions.

Affirmation of the roadless rule provides a uniform standard for national forestland in 36 states. This is a healthy outcome for the nation’s water supply, recreational opportunities and treasury.

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