Club 20 assails roadless proposal

A proposed rule that would govern management of 4.2 million acres of national forest lands in Colorado should be scrapped, according to Club 20.

Instead, a rule submitted by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2008 should be adopted, the Western Slope advocacy organization said in a letter this week to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a Colorado roadless rule that would designate more than 500,000 acres in forests in Colorado for what has been termed “upper-tier” management. That means those lands would be managed in such a way as to leave them entirely untouched. And that, Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen said, is not really the upper level of protection.

“If you can’t get in and fix it, you’re not really protecting it,” she said.

Forest Service officials have been showing plans for upper-tier management at public meetings around the state. The upper-tier proposal was sought by two environmental organizations in particular, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.

No roads could be built in upper-tier areas, even for the purposes of fighting fires there.

While most upper-tier lands are in steep and difficult areas, not all are at high elevation or remote from human development, forest officials said.

The concept of upper-tier management was included in the current proposed roadless rule without full public comment, Club 20 said in its letter.

Meanwhile, the original Colorado roadless rule was drafted with the participation of Democrats, Republicans, industry and environmental organizations, Club 20 said.

“It represents a consensus recommendation for appropriate management of these areas developed by a diverse group of people who best know and utilize these lands,” the organization wrote to Vilsack.

The current proposed plan fails to take into account economic effects of less than $100 million, Petersen said. The loss of far smaller amounts of money from hunting, fishing, off-highway-vehicle travel and other forms of recreation on lands designated as upper tier would be devastating to small communities such as Montrose, Nucla, Naturita, Norwood and so on, she said.

“After the occurrence of a wildfire, there is no provision for mitigation to aid in habitat recovery or restoration of scenic view-sheds in these areas. This could leave nearby communities crippled economically for many years,” the letter says.

Club 20 also wants 9,000 acres in what is known as the Currant Creek coal reserves included again in the North Fork coal-mining area.

“The original Colorado proposal recognized that development of this ‘super-compliant’ coal resource in the North Fork Valley is a significant economic driver in a very rural part of Colorado,” Club 20 said in the letter.

The current proposal excludes the Currant Creek area from the North Fork mining area. If included in the North Fork District, road building would be allowed to accommodate mining.

North Fork Valley coal mining accounts for 40 percent of the state’s annual coal production, more than $450 million in sales and significant local tax revenues, as well as high-paying jobs, Club 20 pointed out.

The previous rule also would have required improvement of habitat for wildlife in the area. Successful and valuable reclamation projects are well-documented at each of the valley’s coal operations, the letter said.

The proposed rule also would hamper development of Western Slope water resources, and Club 20 asked that the final rule honor existing and conditional water rights and water rights for which filings are made before the date of its adoption.


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