Colorado roadless plan rolls forward |

Colorado roadless plan rolls forward

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A federal advisory panel has recommended, with a few tweaks, approval of Colorado’s petition to keep development off the bulk of some 4 million acres of roadless national forest land in the state.

The recommendation now goes to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who will make the final decision. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Joe Walsh said Monday that Johanns likely will announce a decision in about a week.

If Johanns accepts the petition, the state and Forest Service will write rules implementing the plan, expected to take about 18 months.

In an Aug. 2 letter to Johanns, the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee called the Colorado petition, written by a 13-member task force, “a model public process.”

The committee, though, recommended a series of clarifications to ensure that the need for temporary roads for wildfire prevention or other activities is balanced with maintaining “roadless area values and characteristics.”

State officials had asked the federal panel to make sure the language wasn’t too broad, said Mike King, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“We wanted to make sure the exceptions were narrowly tailored to protect the roadless areas,” King said.

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, a member of the state roadless task force, said he assumed the petition would be fine-tuned.

“Our recommendation was always more a policy statement than a legal document,” Penry said.

Task force member David Petersen said he appreciated the federal panel’s suggestions but wished they went further. He wants Colorado to withdraw its petition because a federal judge has overturned the Bush administration rule that required states to petition to keep logging and other activities off the land.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte of San Francisco late last year reinstated a 2001 rule passed in the waning days of the Clinton administration. That rule banned new roads on 58.5 million acres of forests nationwide, including 4.1 million acres in Colorado.

Laporte said the Bush administration didn’t conduct the necessary environmental reviews when it approved a policy in 2005 that opened at least some of the land to development.

The land, some of which has trails or roads, is generally remote and considered important for wildlife habitat, watersheds, scenic and recreation areas.

Individual states can still petition the federal government to develop their own plans.

“The 2001 rule is infinitely superior and better thought out,” Petersen said.

The state petition, written by a diverse panel after months of public hearings and meetings, recommended allowing temporary roads for logging to fend off wildfires and bark beetles. It also proposed removing about 10,000 acres of forest land leased by ski areas from the inventory of roadless areas and limited exceptions for a coal mine in western Colorado.

Critics say those exemptions make Colorado’s plan weaker than the Clinton-era ban. They asked Gov. Bill Ritter to reverse former Gov. Bill Owens’ decision to submit the petition.

Ritter, though, has called the state plan an insurance policy because of the continued legal wrangling over roadless areas. The state of Wyoming has revived its lawsuit challenging the Clinton-era rule.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer sided with Wyoming in 2003 when he threw out the Clinton roadless rule. A federal appeals court in Denver declined to decide an appeal of Brimmer’s decision, saying the Bush administration’s new rule made the issue moot.

The Bush administration and a timber industry group are appealing the ruling that reinstated the 2001 road-building ban.