A federal appeals court sided with the state of Alaska on Wednesday in a ruling that could open a large portion of the Tongass National Forest to road building and logging.

In a split decision, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by a district court, which found that the U.S. Forest Service had improperly exempted the Tongass from a 2001 rule banning new roads and timber harvesting on relatively pristine national forestland across the country.

But it’s unclear what the practical effects of the new ruling will be. The panel sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the Forest Service needs to prepare environmental documents for the exemption. And even if the district court rules that no further review is necessary, in effect giving the green light to logging, the Forest Service won’t necessarily proceed with timber sales.

“It doesn’t mean they have to sell the timber. It means they can sell the timber,” said Tom Lenhart, the Alaska assistant attorney general who argued the appeal.

Forest Service policies on Tongass timber cutting have changed since 2003, when the agency exempted the forest from the 2001 rule, which was adopted in the final days of President Clinton’s administration.

From the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-tongass-roadless-ruling-20140326,0,2002899.story