Forester: Plan would protect 4.2M acres

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A U.S. Forest Service proposal for Colorado provides the chance to “get 4.2 million acres in the bag” in terms of protecting roadless acres, regional forester Rick Cables said Thursday.

Addressing a crowd made up largely of people who would like to see the proposal go further in its protection of Colorado’s roadless acres, Cables said the exceptions allowed within the proposal would apply to less than 5 percent of the total acreage.

“This rule is about prohibiting roads and tree-cutting by and large in a big chunk of country,” Cables said.

The Forest Service and state of Colorado have been working together on the rule. They hope to have it finalized and adopted by around the end of the year after what Cables called a “long and torturous road” that has involved three Colorado governors and two presidential administrations.

Thursday’s Glenwood Springs event was the last public meeting planned for the proposal, but comments on it are being accepted through July 14.

The proposal would remove 8,300 acres from the state’s roadless inventory for the sake of the ski industry; allow temporary roads within a half-mile of communities for logging to reduce fire danger, and additional fire-mitigation projects within a mile and a half; accommodate methane vents for expanding coal mining in the North Fork Valley; and allow for linear construction zones in certain circumstances for gas pipeline and other utility corridors.

It also would assign higher, “upper-tier” protections to 13 percent of roadless acreage, barring almost all exceptions for logging or road-building.

Conservation groups want the greater protections provided to far more of the state’s roadless acreage. The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop rallied supporters with a “Rocky Roadless” ice cream social in conjunction with Thursday’s meeting, and many who asked questions of Forest Service officials wore stickers saying “Top Protection for Roadless Forests.”

“We need to protect more of our national forests as roadless, to keep them for future generations, keep them unscarred and undeveloped,” Bob Millette, with the Roaring Fork Sierra Club, said in an interview.

But Cables warned that expanding the acreage with higher protections would have consequences such as preventing some fire mitigation work near communities, and keeping the Forest Service from being able to do ecological projects such as timber-cutting in aging aspen forests so they can regenerate.

Peter Hart, staff attorney with the Wilderness Workshop, said much of the acreage conservationists want protected is far from communities, in places where regeneration can adequately occur through natural processes such as fire.


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