Colorado roadless proposal is better, but it still needs significant work
By Nick Payne and Aaron Kindle
Colorado sportsmen responded with mixed emotions to the release this spring of a new draft rule for national forest roadless areas in Colorado. When compared to the 2001 national roadless rule, the proposal makes some improvements, but continues to fall well short of sustaining the valuable fish and wildlife habitat, unsurpassed outdoor opportunities and economic benefits provided by these public lands.
National forest roadless areas, commonly known as backcountry, provide some of Colorado’s last undisturbed fish and wildlife habitat and some of the finest hunting and fishing in the country. Conservation of roadless areas directly benefits sportsmen, business owners and small rural communities throughout the state. Consequently, strong protections for these areas are needed to safeguard our world-class hunting and fishing opportunities and the economic stability they provide.
Currently, 92 percent of Colorado’s national forest lands are within one mile of a road. Roads have been shown to increase big-game vulnerability and result in shorter seasons and fewer available tags for hunters. High road densities also decrease the quality of streamside habitat, which is detrimental for wild trout and reduces angling opportunities. In Colorado, roadless areas comprise nearly 60 percent of all native cutthroat trout habitat and more than 50 percent of the public land in the 15 most-hunted game management units.
Accordingly, sportsmen want Colorado’s roadless areas conserved at a level equal to or stronger than the 2001 national rule. We have indentified over two million acres of roadless backcountry crucial to native coldwater fish and big game. The Colorado proposal currently fails to protect these key areas in its preferred alternative.
For the Colorado rule to live up to the national rule standard, the “upper tier” acreage must be considerably expanded. Upper-tier protections are important because these lands receive even stronger protections than those provided by the national roadless rule. Significant upper-tier designations would balance some of the exceptions for backcountry development permitted in the current proposal. This kind of tiered approach played a major role in Idaho, where a state-developed rule was embraced by hunters and anglers and now is hailed as a success.
Additionally, the Colorado proposal fails to prohibit harmful surface development in upper tier areas for oil and gas projects. “Linear construction zones” — unimproved temporary roads in all but name — are allowed for the construction of unnecessary power-line corridors, oil and gas pipelines and water projects through the heart of Colorado’s best backcountry areas.
The new draft rule does resolve some of the problems that plagued earlier versions. The rule now more strongly commits to maintaining roadless area characteristics. Timber cutting activities now focus on restoration instead of pest suppression. Decommissioning and reclamation standards have been added for roads. These changes improve the rule, but more changes are needed before sportsmen can support the proposal.
While the work isn’t yet done, sportsmen believe the Colorado roadless rule can be a success story. We stand ready to do our part and will remain actively involved crafting a final Colorado roadless rule that benefits us all. As hunters and anglers who directly benefit from roadless lands, we have a responsibility to make our voices heard so that the Colorado rule becomes worthy of our support. We ask that all hunters and anglers take the time to craft detailed comments explaining the importance of roadless backcountry areas that they enjoy to help ensure our sporting heritage.
Nick Payne lives in Denver and is the Colorado Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Aaron Kindle lives in Golden and is the Colorado Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited.