Comment period opens on new draft of Colorado roadless rule |

Comment period opens on new draft of Colorado roadless rule

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Colorado’s proposed rule for managing roadless areas in national forests protects the state’s postcard scenery while balancing needs of the ski and energy industries as well as surrounding communities, a state official said Thursday. But some environmental groups and sportsmen say the proposal doesn’t offer enough protection.

A 90-day public comment period on the latest version of Colorado’s roadless rule opened Thursday. Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the proposed rule is “tighter” than versions proposed since 2005.

The draft carves out exceptions to a 2001 federal roadless rule – adopted just before then-President Bill Clinton left office – that prohibits commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forest in 38 states and Puerto Rico. A federal appeals court in Denver has yet to rule on whether the federal regulation can stand, but in the meantime, Colorado and Idaho have pushed to develop their own policies.

There are about 4.2 million acres of roadless forest in Colorado. The state proposal would remove about 8,300 acres to allow for potential ski resort expansions. It would allow for thinning of forests near residential communities to reduce wildfire threats and for some water projects.

It also would allow for methane vents to protect workers at three coal mines in western Colorado. However, in response to public comments, the new version would leave untouched the Currant Creek area – considered critical habitat for wildlife.

The newest version proposes offering more protection than provided by the 2001 federal roadless rule to about 562,000 acres. That’s more than double what Colorado had proposed last year for “upper tier” protection, meaning that land wouldn’t be subject to exceptions allowed under Colorado’s rule.

The latest version came after federal and state officials considered comments from about 200,000 people.

However, some environmental groups said the Colorado proposal doesn’t meet U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s promise to offer protections at least as strong as the 2001 roadless rule.

“It’s headed in the right direction, but we think it still falls short,” said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition.

The “upper tier” acres that would get the highest levels of protection already were slated for protection under management plans for individual forests, Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski said. Idaho proposed higher-level protection for more than 3 million acres in its borders, or about one-third of all its roadless areas, Jones said.

Of the exception for ski area expansions, Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild said, “Just because a ski area has eyes on this area doesn’t mean its roadless values disappear.”

Regional Forester Rick Cables said the exception for ski areas equals less than 0.2 percent of Colorado’s roadless areas. King said world-class skiing is one of the attributes people think of when they picture Colorado.

The Colorado rule, if adopted, would prohibit road construction on oil and gas leases issued in roadless areas, but the rule isn’t meant to be retroactive to leases previously issued in roadless areas.

Colorado and Idaho are the only states that petitioned federal officials with their own roadless rules.

“These two states reinforce what we’re trying to do with the overall roadless rule: Acknowledge multiple uses, encourage collaboration of various interests, protect roadless areas, and hopefully avoid, if not all lawsuits, as many as possible because we have been responsive to multiple needs and uses of forests,” Vilsack said Wednesday.

Still, Zukoski argued, the 2001 federal roadless rule is the gold standard. “It applies in all the neighboring states. It should apply here too,” he said.

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