Another step in roadless-rule dance

Colorado submitted its latest, updated roadless rule to the federal government Tuesday, and there is every reason for state residents to continue supporting the state plan for managing 4.2 million acres of national forest roadless areas in the state.

In drafting the latest version of the rule — an update of the state’s proposal from last August — officials with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources clearly listened to the concerns of environmental groups, coal mines in the North Fork Valley, mountain communities endangered by bark-beetle infestations and others.

The result is a refined roadless rule that more carefully deals with issues such as potential coal mine expansion and timbering in areas near communities threatened by potential wildfire. It is a sensible plan that deserves to be accepted and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service. But nobody should expect this to be the last word on roadless management in Colorado.

For one thing, because of the changes, federal authorities plan to update their 2008 environmental analysis of the original Colorado roadless rule proposal. That could mean many more months before the plan is eligible to be adopted.

Also, there are ongoing legal battles over the federal version of the roadless rule. Most recently, there was a hearing last month before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over whether to uphold the decision of a Wyoming federal judge, who had issued an injunction against implementation of the federal roadless rule.

It’s now approaching a decade since President Bill Clinton initiated this political and legal dance with an executive order designating more than 50 million acres of national forest roadless areas across the country. It’s time we had some finality on how to manage those lands. In this state, at least, the Colorado Roadless Rule is the vehicle to accomplish that.


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