Roadless plans may be revised | AspenTimes.com

Roadless plans may be revised

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press

DENVER ” A task force that recommended banning new roads on nearly all 4.1 million acres of remote national forest in Colorado could reconsider after hearing from people who believe the panel gave too much ground to development advocates.

Those people include at least one task force member. David Petersen of Durango, a staffer with Trout Unlimited, said last week that he disagrees with the recommendation to remove a coal mine in the Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest from designated roadless areas as long as mining continues.

“It flies in the face of majority opinion,” said Petersen, referring to public comments the panel has received.

The group is tentatively scheduled to meet in the second week of September to review comments on the preliminary recommendations it issued Aug. 9 and draft a final version for Gov. Bill Owens, who will decide what recommendations to make to federal officials.

The 13-member bipartisan panel was appointed last year by the Legislature and Owens to study how the 4.1 million acres in Colorado should be managed.

The sites, spread through national forests across the state, were among 58.5 million acres declared off-limits to new roads by the Clinton administration but challenged in court and opened to potential development by the Bush administration last year.

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After replacing the Clinton-era rule, the administration gave governors 18 months to petition the federal government to protect the land. Owens will consider the task force’s recommendations and decide whether to submit a petition, which will ultimately be considered by the agriculture secretary.

The Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force has recommended that new roads be banned on most of the land. It recommended prohibiting roads on new oil and gas leases, which would require that drilling be done offsite.

But in compromises worked out after 10 months of meetings and public hearings, a majority of the task force voted to remove roadless classification from about 70,000 acres for existing and future operations by the North Fork Valley Mine. The land would have to be reclaimed and reclassified as roadless after the mine closed.

Petersen said the mine could be accommodated without exempting it while giving forest managers “the extra hammer” that comes with the roadless designation.

Petersen said he also opposes the recommendation to allow temporary roads in some areas for logging and other activities to prevent wildfires and stem the spread of tree-killing insects. Temporary roads could be built in populated areas and spots included in community wildfire protection plans.

Some task force members said land managers need flexibility to battle the bark-beetle infestation plaguing Colorado forests and reduce a buildup of vegetation to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Petersen questioned the need for fire prevention and treatment for insects in the backcountry where no one lives.

“The natural ecology should exist. Insect invasions and forest fires are part of the natural ecology,” he said.

The Colorado Wildlife Federation, which includes hunters and anglers, is reviewing the potential impacts of the provisions on the coal mine and wildfire prevention, said Suzanne O’Neill, the group’s acting director.

O’Neill, though, said the federation is clear about the decision against seeking interim protection for roadless areas while the federal government considers Colorado’s petition.

O’Neill said the federation and other outdoors groups will send a letter to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, to ask that new roads be prohibited until the fate of the 4.1 million acres is decided.

Oil and gas leases on nearly 22,000 acres of roadless forest sites were sold Aug. 10 by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages federal minerals. The Forest Service said the leases were allowed under individual forest plans, which would block roads on some of the sites but not all.

The leases are on hold while the BLM considers formal protests by the public.

“Here’s our very formal task force process that has worked quite well,” O’Neill said. “We think it’s inappropriate that (Rey) permitted this to go forward at this time.”

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