Roadless rejection

There’s no need for Colorado’s Roadless Rule to protect 4.4 million acres of roadless areas in this state, some environmental groups have insisted, because a federal court ruling from San Francisco two years ago granted more protection to those lands than the Colorado rule.

Oops. That argument suffered a serious setback this week when the same federal magistrate in San Francisco substantially reduced the scope of her 2006 decision. It now basically applies only to New Mexico plus nine states in the far West. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are not covered.

But Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are covered by a federal judge’s ruling in Wyoming earlier this year that invalidated the original Clinton administration roadless rule from 2001 because Clinton’s rule didn’t properly follow federal environmental regulations.

If you’re having trouble following what’s what, join the club. Ever since Clinton first declared more than 50 million acres of national forest lands throughout the country as roadless, there have been conflicting court rulings and competing executive orders that have changed what is protected.

One of those executive orders came from President George W. Bush, and it said that each state could produce its own plan for protecting the roadless areas within its boundaries, and submit it to the Forest Service as a recommendation.

Colorado and Idaho did just that. Colorado’s plan was formulated after more than a year of public input and discussions with stakeholders ranging from ranchers and ski resorts to wildlife officials and environmentalists. Former Gov. Bill Owens initially approved the plan, and current Gov. Bill Ritter endorsed it with a few modifications.

But some environmentalists now oppose the Colorado plan because they say it allows too much road building for things like fire protection and grazing improvements, authorizes road work for coal exploration on some public lands and for ski-area expansion in certain areas.

No doubt they are hoping that President-elect Barack Obama will return to the Clinton
Rule once he is inaugurated. But even a new executive order won’t overturn the federal judge’s ruling from Wyoming. And most of Colorado’s roadless areas would thus be unprotected until the conflicting court rulings make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Colorado Roadless Rule provides strong protection to the vast majority of the 4.4 million acres of designated roadless areas in the state. It is far better than nothing, which is why we hope the Forest Service will implement it in the coming months.


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