En Banc Treatment for Tongass Roadless Case

     (CN) - The 9th Circuit agreed Friday to reconsider an exemption from Clinton-era roadless rules for the nation's largest national forest.
     The U.S. Forest Service exempted the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the wilderness-friendly Roadless Area Conservation Rule, reasoning it would help settle an expensive lawsuit, allow for more commercial logging than would be possible under the rule, and free small communities around the forest from potential economic isolation.
     The Organized Village of Kake, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Defenders of Wildlife and others challenged the exemption in federal court, and U.S. District Judge John Sedwick vacated the agency's decision in 2011.
     After a divided three-judge appellate panel reversed in April, finding the agency's justifications for the exemption "entirely rational," the plaintiffs petitioned for a hearing before an 11-judge panel.
     The 9th Circuit agreed in a brief order on Friday. It scheduled the en banc hearing for the week of Dec. 15, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif.