McGrath to Court: Public Comment on Roadless Rule Substantial
HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath on Wednesday joined the legal debate on the proposed federal roadless regulation by asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the rules adopted by the Forest Service last year.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, McGrath strongly disagreed with a decision by an Idaho judge that public input on the proposed rule was “grossly inadequate.”
“There is considerable confusion regarding the information that has been presented to the court about the public comment process in Montana,” McGrath said. “As attorney general, I have the responsibility to clarify for the court that Montana citizens truly had substantial opportunity to comment and that the majority of those comments overwhelmingly supported the roadless initiative.”
The brief states that the Forest Service held 34 public meetings in Montana alone, in large cities such as Billings and Kalispell, and small communities like Plains and Divide, which are closest to the roadless areas affected by the rule.
“Public turn-out was impressive,” McGrath said in the brief. “In all, 17,429 Montanans participated in the NEPA process, and of those commenting, 11,654 favored even stronger roadless area protections than those proposed in the Forest Service’s draft environmental impact statement.”
McGrath noted that the preliminary injunction imposed by the district court in Idaho was based on the court’s belief that the public comment period was inadequate. However, contrary to the Idaho court’s findings, McGrath argued that the Forest Service made provisions for public participation that were “exemplary.”
“In Montana, the final roadless rule was based on the involvement of over 17,000 citizens,” McGrath explained. “The Idaho court’s findings simply ignored the input from Montana citizens. We’re asking that its decision be overturned.”
Rather, the brief concludes that the roadless rule is “the product of public rulemaking at its most effective.”