200,000 letters call for national roadless protections to apply to Colorado areas

More than 200,000 people have sent messages to the Obama administration and Gov. Bill Ritter calling for the same protections for Colorado roadless areas as those provided for national forests elsewhere under a federal rule, conservationists say.

The push comes as the state Department of Natural Resources wraps up a public comment period for the state’s revised roadless rule proposal.

Some conservation groups contend the plan has exceptions for industries such as skiing and mining that make it weaker than the 2001 national rule.

The Ritter administration says it provides stronger protections from road-building and is more tailored to the state’s needs.

The Department of Natural Resources had received more than 20,000 comments as of Thursday, department spokesman Theo Stein said.

Environmental organizer Pete Kolbenschlag said about 10,000 comments have been submitted to the state by Coloradans who want the state to follow the national rule.

He said the remainder of the 200,000 comments expressing that view were sent to the Obama administration, but he believes national conservation groups plan to send copies to the state before its comment deadline.

That deadline is Saturday, although Stein said comments that arrive within a few days afterward also should be able to be considered.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee filed legislation Thursday in the Senate and House, respectively, to put into law the roadless protections imposed in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.

Cantwell’s office said it took its action after the rule was weakened by the Bush administration and because of conflicting court decisions that have created uncertainty over the rule.

Also this week, Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, underwent a U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on his nomination to become a Department of Agriculture undersecretary overseeing the U.S. Forest Service.

In that hearing, Sherman said he wouldn’t participate in any federal review of the Colorado rule that he has helped develop. That encouraged Kolbenschlag.

“Some folks had concern about his role in this particular policy and how it would mesh with (President) Obama’s stated attempt to protect national forests,” Kolbenschlag said.

Stein said while many people may ask the state to drop its rule, “That is simply not going to happen.”

The point of the comment period is to hear from the public on revisions to an earlier state proposal, and Ritter is committed to a state-specific rule, he said.

Stein said the state hopes to recommend a final rule by mid-November, but there’s no definite timeline.


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