Forest proposal conflicts with coal mines

Proposed changes to national forest-planning rules could gut the nation’s long-standing requirement that forests have many uses, Colorado mining and logging interests said.

The proposed rule changes also could threaten a roadless rule under study for Colorado forests, the companies and organizations said.

The Colorado Timber Industry Association, Oxbow Mining LLC and Mountain Coal Co. all weighed in on the planning rules proposed by the Obama administration.

The debate also has implications for the proposed Colorado roadless rule. That one is of particular interest to Oxbow because it would allow temporary road building on 20,000 acres for the installation of mine methane vents.

Oxbow wants to expand its Elk Creek Mine in Delta and Gunnison counties underneath roadless areas. The changes would undermine the Colorado rule, Oxbow said in comments to the Forest Service.

The proposal would affect 193 million acres in 155 national forests, installing a land-management regime in conflict with the Forest Service mandate to manage its lands for multiple use, Oxbow said in comments to the Department of Agriculture.

Mountain Coal Co. said the process appears tilted toward limited uses of the forests without a reliable scientific basis.

Mountain Coal “does not believe that the rule should change the entire emphasis of forest planning” to accomplish a “lofty, perhaps unachievable goal,” the company said.

The proposed changes would require the Forest Service to maintain and restore all species on forest lands. That requirement would establish a standard under which there could be no degradation of wildlife habitat, Oxbow said, noting that such a requirement would be inconsistent with the National Forest Management Act and other federal law.

One potential outcome would be the de facto establishment of wilderness by land management requirements and without action by Congress, Oxbow said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the proposal is needed to provide Forest Service with tools “to make our forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change.”

The deadline for comments expired this month.


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