Colorado roadless rule remains a sensible plan

A seven-year process that some environmental groups maintained was unnecessary has resulted in a final roadless plan that makes sense for Colorado.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack approved the record of decision that finalizes the Colorado Roadless Rule. The rule, drafted and amended with input from a multitude of Coloradans and users of the national forests, protects 4.2 million acres of national forest lands in the state from road building and related development.

However, because the roadless rule is unique to Colorado, it allows a variety of activities that aren’t allowed or are more restricted under the national roadless rule: expansion of coal mines in the North Fork Valley of Delta and Gunnison counties; enlarging of some ski areas operating on national forest lands; flexibility to build roads to address wildfire mitigation and pine beetle infestations.

But the Colorado rule isn’t just about easing restrictions imposed by the national rule. It sets a higher level of protection than the national rule for roughly 1.2 million acres of the 4.2 million roadless acres in this state. The final version also adds 400,000 acres of new roadless lands, and it offers additional protection for cutthroat trout habitat.

The fight over roadless areas began in 2001, when President Bill Clinton, in one of his final official acts, designated more than 50 million acres across the West as roadless, banning most development of those lands. But logging, mining and energy interests objected and challenged Clinton’s executive order in court. That led to a series of conflicting judicial rulings.

It also led President George W. Bush to offer states the opportunity to propose their own rules to protect roadless areas within their boundaries.

Only Idaho and Colorado followed through on that offer. In 2005, a statewide group authorized by the Legislature began holding hearings across Colorado to take input from citizens and user groups about what such a state rule should entail.

The Colorado rule was eventually adopted and amended several times. It was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service first by Republican Gov. Bill Owens and subsequently by Democratic Govs. Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper. It also won bipartisan support from Colorado’s congressional delegation and the endorsement of many sportsmen’s groups.

However, even though representatives of environmental organizations took part in the original meetings on the rule, leading groups later opposed the Colorado Roadless Rule. They argued it was not needed because the national rule, which was eventually upheld in court, provides better protection.

They are wrong. The Colorado Roadless Rule does a better job of protecting roadless forest lands in this state in a manner that serves Colorado’s needs. We applaud Vilsack for giving it final approval.


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