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Supreme Court won't review Alaska tribe's victory in roads case

The Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Photo by Mark Brennan via Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to grant a petition in Alaska v. Organized Village of Kake, leaving a victory for the Alaska tribe in place.

The case stems from a long-running political and legal controversy over a rule issued at the end of the Clinton administration that sought to protect millions of acres of federal forest land from new road building and logging. Four years later, the Bush administration effectively gutted the rule in response to complaints from Republican governors and the timber industry.

Along the way, the Department of Agriculture also exempted the Tongass National Forest entirely from the rule at the insistence of the state of Alaska. according to a U.S. Forest Service document. That prompted a lawsuit from the Organized Village of Kake and environmental groups who wanted to protect fishing habitats, sacred sites and other important areas from development.

After numerous rounds of litigation, the tribe and the groups won a major decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015 that said the exemption was illegal. But the battle wasn't completely over because the state of Alaska, which had intervened in the case, asked the Supreme Court to overturn that decision.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Arguments in Organized Village of Kake v. Department of Agriculture

Without comment, the justices declined in an order list released in the morning. That means the 9th Circuit decision will stand and the roadless rule will apply to the forest.

"Today's court order is great news for Southeast Alaska and for all those who visit this spectacular place," Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo said in a press release. "The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important wildlife habitat and vital to local residents for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the local economy. The Supreme Court's decision means that America's biggest national forest—the Tongass—will continue to benefit from a common-sense rule that applies nationwide."

The Organized Village of Kake is located within the Tongass National Forest.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Organized Village of Kake v. Department of Agriculture (July 29, 2015)

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