Colorado submits roadless proposal to USDA |

Colorado submits roadless proposal to USDA

Samantha Abernethy
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter submitted a revised state petition to the federal government Tuesday on managing millions of acres of remote national forest land in Colorado that detractors say doesn’t adequately protect the areas.

But state officials say the plan will provide better protection for roadless forest lands than a 2001 Clinton-era policy supported by many environmentalists.

The document makes changes to a proposal drafted by a bipartisan panel created by the governor and Legislature in 2006.

Colorado’s plan adds 400,000 acres that were missed under the plan originally proposed in 2001 and allows some activity on up to 30,000 acres of the 4.2 million acres in Colorado’s roadless inventory.

Ski areas could expand within 14 ski permit boundaries and three existing coal mines would also be able to drill vents to expand.

Tracts of roadless forests nationwide were declared off-limits to new roads and development by the Clinton administration in 2001. Some of the areas were opened to potential development under the Bush administration in 2005.

Colorado pursued its own plan because the conflicting federal roadless policies were challenged in court.

Last year, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack reinstated most of the Clinton-era policy banning development in the roadless areas. The directive gives him sole decision-making authority over proposed forest management and road construction projects in roadless areas.

The Obama administration also said it would defend the 2001 roadless policy.

“I’m confident that working with the Governor and with the public, we will craft a final rule that is, on balance, at least as protective of roadless areas – and preferably more protective – than the 2001 Roadless Rule,” wrote Vilsack in a press release Tuesday.

Because the governor’s office proposal is substantially different from the previous task force proposal, a full environmental impact study will be performed.

Colorado environmental organizations have had mixed reactions to the state’s plan.

Steve Smith, assistant regional director for the Colorado office of The Wilderness Society, said a state-specific rule is unnecessary and their organization encourages the Obama administration to implement a national rule. The Sierra Club’s Director of Public Lands Protection, Athan Manuel, also urged the Obama administration to oppose the state proposal, saying it would undermine the 2001 rule.

But the Colorado Wildlife Federation – a group of hunters, anglers and conservationists – supports the Colorado proposal and says the state plan includes better protections for wildlife conservation than it had previously.

Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill said the proposal strikes an appropriate balance between limiting commercial logging and allowing fuel reduction projects in wilderness areas adjacent to communities.

Environment Colorado, an environmental advocacy group, also supports the state proposal. Program Advocate Matthew Garrington said the proposal provides better protection for forest backcountry.

Jane Danowitz, director of the U.S. public lands program of the Pew Environment Group, said Tuesday that the state plan is a “step backward” and USDA’s support of the plan is contradictory.

“At the same time the administration is defending the roadless rule in court, it is supporting a plan that circumvents the rule’s protections,” she said.

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