Colorado gets more time on roadless plan
December 5, 2008
DENVER ” Work on Colorado’s roadless forest plan will continue into the new federal administration as the state reviews ways to manage more than 4 million acres of backcountry.
State natural resources chief Harris Sherman said Friday that federal officials agreed not to adopt a plan until they get Colorado’s recommendations. He wrote in a letter Thursday to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, that Colorado is working with various interest groups on revisions and needs more time.
The state also hasn’t received the latest suggestions from a federal advisory panel on Colorado’s plan for about 4.4 million acres of roadless areas.
Sherman said the state will ask the Barack Obama administration for an expedited review of Colorado’s plan with the expectation that it will be issued three to six months into the new administration.
Mike King, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Rey assured the state that the federal government won’t approve any projects that would conflict with the state’s roadless proposal.
Rey confirmed Friday that the Agriculture Department will support the state’s request for a little more time, said Terry McCann, spokesman for the regional Forest Service office in Lakewood.
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“The key here is to do it right and take our time to get the right product,” McCann said.
Conservation groups were concerned the Bush administration was trying to rush through the plan before President-elect Obama takes over.
“The governor has ensured that the Bush administration won’t have the last word on Colorado’s forests,” said Matt Garrington, field director of Environment Colorado. “The governor is standing with the people of Colorado by making sure we have a measured, thoughtful approach to protecting our forests.”
The roadless areas are among 58.5 million acres of forests nationwide declared off-limits to development by the Clinton administration in 2001. Since then, federal courts have overturned the rule and thrown out a 2005 Bush administration policy that opened some of the land to development.
Idaho and Colorado are the only states that wrote their own roadless plans when the Bush administration told states they could submit petitions to protect the land. Some states sued to restore the Clinton-era road ban.
Colorado’s rule was written by a task force and submitted by former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, near the end of his term.
Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, made a few changes and resubmitted it. He has called the document an insurance policy that will protect the backcountry no matter what the courts decide.
Environmental, hunting and angling groups have urged Ritter to withdraw the state plan and apply the 2001 roadless rule. They have criticized exemptions, including temporary roads to reach livestock grazing areas, for wildfire prevention, expansion of existing coal mining and some utility infrastructure.
Another exemption is the permanent removal of about 8,000 acres of ski area terrain.
A major concern is the so-called “gap” oil and gas leases approved in roadless areas between the time the Clinton-era road-building ban was thrown out and reinstated. Tens of thousands of acres could be affected.
The status of the 2001 rule grew murkier this week when Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco modified her decision that reinstated the Clinton-era roadless policy. Her amended ruling Tuesday reduced the affected area to New Mexico and Western states covered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Colorado is covered by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.