Colorado Roadless Rule makes sense for state

The status of 4.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in national forests in Colorado has been uncertain for more than a decade, thanks to court cases and political battles.

But before long, those backcountry tracts could have much-needed protection and certainty, if the Colorado Roadless Rule is given final approval by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

A draft environmental impact statement for the 2011 version of the Colorado rule was released by the U.S. Forest Service in April.

A public meeting to review the proposal and gather public input is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Montrose Pavilion.

Coloradans who value backcountry, outdoor recreation and wildlife should express their support for the Colorado rule. It will protect large swaths of Colorado forests in a manner that recognizes the needs of Colorado. Public comment is accepted until July 14.

It’s important to note that the Colorado Roadless Rule doesn’t close off any forest lands from exiting uses. Instead, it prohibits most future road building and timber cutting. Existing oil and gas leases may be developed, but no new leasing is allowed.

Roadless areas aren’t the same as wilderness. Mechanized and motorized vehicles can still be used in them, so long as they remain on approved trails. Most other recreational uses are also allowed.

Those issues were made clear when the first version of the Colorado Roadless Rule was being hammered out by a statewide committee back in 2005 and 2006. That committee included representatives of many different user groups, including recreationists, ranchers and environmentalists. Now, however, much of the opposition comes from environmentalists, who claim the Colorado rule doesn’t go far enough to protect roadless areas.

They don’t like the fact that it removes some 8,000 acres within permitted ski areas from the roadless inventory. They also object because it allows temporary road building on 20,000 acres of roadless lands to accommodate coal mine expansion in Delta County’s North Fork Valley.

Additionally, as the column below highlights, environmentalists want special protection for more than 2 million acres of the 4.2 million roadless acres — so-called “upper tier” areas.

The major differences between regular roadless areas and upper-tier areas are that no temporary roads would be allowed for public health and safety, to serve water lines or utilities. Also, no tree cutting would be allowed to improve forest health and public safety, such as to alleviate bark-beetle problems. The Colorado Roadless Rule would designate 562,000 acres as “upper-tier” areas.

Many environmentalists want the Colorado roadless lands to revert to the 2001 nationwide roadless rule enacted by President Bill Clinton. But, as we have noted before, that rule cannot currently be implemented in Colorado, thanks to a lawsuit that originated in Wyoming. And because of conflicting legal rulings in California and Wyoming, its future is very much up in the air.

Furthermore, the proposed Colorado rule actually has stricter protections that the Clinton rule in some respects. For instance, it prohibits gas pipelines across roadless areas in most instances.

The Colorado Roadless Rule was developed by a diverse group of Coloradans, with substantial public input, to meet Colorado needs while providing significant protections to millions of acres of forest lands that belong to all Americans. It deserves to be adopted and implemented by the Forest Service.


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