Groups rally to support protecting roadless areas
October 2, 2009
DENVER – Colorado and national conservation groups have collected roughly 200,000 comments on protecting more than 4 million acres of the state’s roadless forest land.
The groups want the Obama administration to reaffirm a 2001 policy by the Clinton administration that banned roads on about 58 million acres of national forests across the country. Several environmental and hunting and angling groups also want Colorado to shelve its plan to manage 4.4 million acres of roadless areas.
Colorado is taking comments on its proposal through early next week and likely will submit it by mid-November to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose agency oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Vilsack has said the Obama administration supports protecting roadless areas and will defend the 2001 policy.
Groups at a rally in downtown Denver Thursday called for strong protection of Colorado’s roadless areas. Critics argue the state proposal would leave the areas the least protected nationwide because it would allow temporary roads for wildfire prevention, expansion of existing coal mining and some utility infrastructure.
Some ski area terrain would be permanently removed from the inventory of roadless areas.
“Like national parks and other protected public lands, our backcountry national forests are among America’s great assets and Colorado’s treasures,” said Bryan Martin of the Colorado Mountain Club.
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Colorado started developing its roadless plan after a federal court in Wyoming threw out the Clinton-era ban on road-building and the Bush administration adopted one potentially opening some of the land to development.
Gov. Bill Ritter has called a Colorado plan an insurance policy amid the legal uncertainty. A state task force wrote the plan, which was first submitted in 2006 by Ritter’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens.
A decision in August by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco restored most of the Clinton-era policy. But an appeal of another ruling that overturned the 2001 road-building ban is pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Harris Sherman, Ritter’s natural resources chief, has been nominated as the agriculture undersecretary in charge of the Forest Service. He said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday that he would excuse himself from considering Colorado’s roadless plan.
Some of the areas protected as roadless have trails and roads, but generally are prized for their pristine qualities and are considered important as wildlife habitat, watersheds, scenic and recreation areas.