Forest officials look to hearings as guide to roadless rule management
State and federal officials eager for some certainty in managing roadless areas of the national forests in Colorado have an opportunity to reach the goal, the head of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests said.
Comment on a proposed Colorado roadless rule — which has been criticized by industry and environmentalists alike — begins Wednesday with a public meeting in Montrose.
“We really have a chance with the Colorado roadless rule to get something done for once,” Charlie Richmond, supervisor of the national forests, told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel on Monday.
Colorado forest managers have been plagued for nearly a decade by disagreement about how to manage some 4.2 million acres of forested land.
By one measure, the proposed Colorado roadless rule preserves the current approach to managing the national forests, Richmond said.
By another, he said, it will reflect the Forest Service’s modern approach to issues such as fire.
In many cases, the Forest Service will let fire burn rather than race in as it has in the past to extinguish blazes, Richmond said.
“In a lot of cases, we’ll back off to a more defensible position,” Richmond said.
That approach would particularly apply to 562,000 acres of the 4.2 million acres, Richmond said.
In those so-called “upper-tier roadless areas,” timbering would be prohibited so as to allow the lands to remain as much as possible in their original state.
That doesn’t mean those lands would become wilderness — mountain biking and off-highway vehicles, for instance, would be permitted to remain if they’re already allowed there — but the Forest Service would not cut timber for fuel treatment or even habitat restoration, Richmond said.
Those activities would be allowed in the remaining roadless lands, he said.
Upper-tier roadless areas would not necessarily be remote or even at higher elevations, suggesting the possibility that wildfire could travel quickly from upper-tier to standard-tier roadless lands, Richmond acknowledged.
Though upper-tier territory might not be remote, it would tend to be steep or back-country areas to which access would be difficult, Richmond said.
While the Forest Service is proposing that about 10 percent of the 4.2 million Colorado acres be designated upper-tier roadless, conservation organizations are pressing for nearly half, or 2 million acres, to be designated as upper tier.
The proposed Colorado roadless rule also has drawn criticism from environmental organizations because it recognizes a North Fork coal area, under which mining could continue. Critics also have questioned removing some 8,000 acres within the permitted boundaries of ski areas from roadless designations.
The meeting on Wednesday will be 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Montrose Pavilion and will be open to the public.
The Forest Service encourages comments using the web-comment form available at http://www.regulations.gov.
The comment period ends July 14.