Nearly 650,000 acres in local forest in limbo |

Nearly 650,000 acres in local forest in limbo

In June 2002, after more than five years of studies, the U.S. Forest Service decided that 640,000 roadless acres in the national forest surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley were worthy of some level of protection.With the stroke of a pen on an executive order earlier this month, President Bush potentially snuffed that decision.Bush overturned the controversial Roadless Rule implemented by former President Clinton shortly before he left office. The rule placed 58.5 million acres of national forest off-limits to road building, thus largely protecting those lands from oil and gas development, mining and logging.The roadless areas are separate from wilderness areas, which have an even greater level of protection that prohibits any mechanized uses.In the White River National Forest, the roadless areas are kind of the ugly stepchildren to places like the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. The roadless areas aren’t the kind of lands that tourists grab a camera to photograph.The lands in the roadless inventory tend to be at lower elevations and covered in thick forest. Fewer people venture there and wildlife flourishes.Of the 640,000 acres in the White River National Forest roadless inventory, 13 percent, or 82,000 acres, was considered important enough for the Forest Service to recommend the wilderness designation. That includes 50,000 acres of Red Table Mountain north of Ruedi Reservoir and south of Eagle and Gypsum, and the 12,000-acre Assignation Ridge, west of Redstone and southwest of Carbondale.Those roadless areas may now never qualify for wilderness.Power to the people?

Bush’s decision allows states to determine how much land will be identified and managed as roadless – regardless of recent plans made by the Forest Service in areas such as the White River National Forest.”It’s fully up to the states,” said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for the Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The governor of each western state, where most of the roadless land is located, must petition the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the next 18 months to adopt the Forest Service’s roadless inventory, add to it or reduce it. That will determine the level of protection.In the case of the White River National Forest, the 640,000 acres identified as roadless by the Forest Service two years ago is reopened for consideration by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens – and potentially placed on the chopping block.”If he does not opt in, it’s not managed as such,” said Kennedy.He defended the move as an effort to get residents of western states more involved in management of their lands, something he claimed the Clinton roadless rule didn’t achieve.It also corrects mistakes that were made by the Clinton administration in roadless inventories, Kennedy said. “The roadless designations were wrought with errors.”Some boundaries were arbitrarily drawn. A survey of 17 affected national forests found roads, power lines, Federal Aviation Administration radar and tower sites, water and gas pipelines, campgrounds, mines, reservoirs, and a radio tower within “roadless” areas, according to research by the Resources Committee staff. In other cases, private landowners were left without access to their property.The Clinton roadless rule “left a bad taste” in the mouth of some westerners, Kennedy said.Conservationists mad as hellBut conservationists claim that once the public understands what happened, it will be Bush’s action that leaves the bad taste.

“To me, this is a scheme to turn over the management of 58 million acres of the most ecologically important areas to a bunch of right-wing western governors,” said Richard Compton, director of the White River Conservation Project.Compton’s organization led an effort by a coalition of conservationists to do their own inventory of roadless areas in the White River National Forest. Extensive field research by Compton and assistants led to claims that there were about 1.1 million roadless acres, not the 640,000 acres claimed by the Forest Service.The Forest Service “set up too many obstacles, too many reasons not to include” areas in the roadless inventory, Compton said. Adding insult to injury in the minds of conservationists, the Bush administration is putting all the lands back on the table.The conservation groups are betting that western governors won’t petition to add to the roadless inventory.Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, claimed the Bush ruling is another example of “corporate welfare” that will require a public subsidy. The federal government could end up funding more road development to accommodate logging and natural gas production, he warned.Building roads makes no sense at this time because the Forest Service is already facing a $10 billion backlog in road maintenance nationwide, he added.Shoemaker said the conservation groups lobbied the Forest Service to include more of the Thompson Creek area southwest of Carbondale in the roadless inventory. If they had, and Bush wouldn’t have made his ruling, Thompson Creek wouldn’t be targeted for natural gas exploration like it is now, said Shoemaker.Presidential campaign issueKennedy said that the “look-but-don’t-touch management technique” favored by environmentalists in roadless areas isn’t necessarily what residents of western states want for their lands.Conservationists are betting that the majority of residents are with them. They plan to make Bush’s environmental record over the last four years a campaign issue.

Adriana Raudzens, a representative of the regional Sierra Club office, claimed that Bush’s overturning of Clinton’s Roadless Rule is just another example in the bigger picture of environmental assaults by this administration.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is– see Forest on page A7– continued from page A1FOR A7″To me, this is a scheme to turn over the management of 58 million acres of the most ecologically important areas to a bunch of right-wing western governors.” Richard Compton, White River Conservation Project

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