State gets extension on roadless rules

Colorado will get another shot at redefining its roadless-area protection plan after the Forest Service on Friday granted the state an open-ended extension.

The state initially faced a Friday deadline for sending the roadless rule to Washington for approval, but enough concern was voiced by sportsmen and environmental and conservation groups that earlier this week Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, sought an extension in order to address the concerns.

In a letter to Forest Service chief Mark Rey, Sherman said the state “would like the opportunity to evaluate and discuss ... proposed language modifications” in the plan.

“We believe it is critical that we get the proposed rule right, to avoid further wrangling,” the letter said.

Friday morning, the state received word that the Bush administration would not push to finalize the roadless rule until Colorado completed its revamp of the recommendations.

The delay means any decision on roadless rules will be made by the new Obama administration, and Gov. Bill Ritter has said his office will seek an “expedited review” of the Colorado rule.

The review and possible acceptance is expected to come within six months, said DNR spokesman Theo Stein.

The rule is aimed at protecting 4.4 million acres of the state’s roadless backcountry. Some groups, however, have said the rule doesn’t protect enough acreage while other interests are claiming some of the acres covered shouldn’t qualify for roadless status.

The extension comes shortly after a San Francisco judge effectively stripped any protection from Colorado’s roadless areas by limiting the reach of the 2001 national roadless rule to California, Oregon, Washington and seven other Western states.

However, the state has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, that it will not approve any projects “inconsistent with the Colorado roadless petition.”

Matt Garrington, field director for the conservation group Environment Colorado, said Ritter “made a wise decision in seeking the extension.”

“By allowing for more time to review the proposed federal rule, we can take an honest look at how best to protect roadless areas in Colorado’s national forests,” Garrington said.

Mike King, deputy director for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the state is committed to “getting it right.”

“The Colorado petition (which began the entire roadless process) said get it right and that’s what we’re committed to,” King said. “We have a lot invested in this rule and now we have to get it to the place it protects Colorado’s backcountry.”


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