Bill Grant Column October 28, 2008
2001 Roadless Rule best protects Colorado wild areas
On October 23, critics of the proposed Colorado Roadless Rule carried a “boatload” — actually a kayak full — of letters up the Capitol steps to dramatize objections by a variety of stakeholders to the weakening of protections for Colorado’s remaining 4.4 million acres of roadless wild lands.
Essential to hunting, fishing, recreation and other outdoor activities, as well as sources for clean air and water, these roadless areas are critical to Colorado’s economy and quality of life.
Once again, Coloradans have spoken in favor of retaining the level of protection assured by the 2001 roadless rule. By the close of the comment period on the draft environmental impact statement that would implement the alternative Colorado plan, initiated by Gov. Bill Owens and continued under Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration, around 170,000 comments were submitted to the Forest Service. The vast majority of these comments favor maintaining the protections that the Bush administration seeks to weaken.
In addition, a poll conducted by the Pew Environmental Group found that two-thirds of the state’s population is against opening roadless areas to oil and gas drilling. The Colorado plan would subject up to 70,000 acres that were protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule to energy development and supporting roads, pipelines and infrastructure. The Colorado plan would also permit other development ranging from new roads for grazing access, expansion of coal mining into roadless areas and logging far beyond that necessary for protecting homes and structures at the forest/urban interface.
Despite an order from White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolton, placing a moratorium on new regulations after June 1 of this year and completion of any new regulations before Nov. 1, except for “extraordinary circumstances,” the administration continues efforts to weaken Colorado’s roadless area protections. If the Bush administration will not follow its own prohibition against midnight regulations, then Gov. Bill Ritter should exercise his authority to opt out of the poorly drafted Proposed Roadless Rule for Colorado.
When the Bush administration attempted to roll back the 2001 Roadless Rule and replace it with a state-by-state program, only Colorado and Idaho of the 38 states with protected roadless areas agreed to this alternative. Multiple court challenges and Bush administration rule-changing efforts have left the 2001 Roadless Rule in legal limbo today. When Gov. Bill Ritter signed on to his predecessor’s Roadless Area Task Force, he reserved the right not to sign off on the final Forest Service plan if it did not grant protections equal to those of the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Colorado plan fails this test.
Under the draft Colorado rule, essential protections granted by the 2001 rule are weakened or eliminated. In many instances, vague or conflicting language, undefined terms and other flaws make it uncertain just how much protection any Colorado roadless area would have.
Other problems with the Colorado plan, in addition to permitting new oil and gas wells along with pipelines, access roads, and other supporting infrastructure include: allowing logging with only vague restrictions far from the urban interface where it is essential to protecting homes and other structures, coal mining expansion into roadless areas, and roads for grazing access. “Long-term temporary roads,” whatever that means, that could scar the landscape for a generation are also authorized under the Colorado plan.
The waning days of an unpopular administration are a poor time to draft radical new public policy, but on Nov. 18 and 19, the Roadless Area Conservation Committee, a group of 15 diverse stakeholders, will meet in Washington for a review of the Colorado plan. If this meeting does not restore the essential protections granted under the 2001 Roadless Rule, Ritter should heed the Colorado voices in favor of protecting our roadless areas for future generations.
A weak Colorado rule will leave Colorado with less protection for its roadless areas than other states. Better to withdraw from the process and join our 37 sister states to advocate for strong, enforceable and uniform protective regulations than to sacrifice so much of our priceless public lands heritage to a hastily concluded settlement.