Roadless task force: No development in forest | AspenTimes.com

Roadless task force: No development in forest

Judith KohlerThe Associated Press

DENVER A state task force released proposed recommendations Wednesday on managing acres of remote national forest land in Colorado amid growing calls for federal agencies to delay selling energy leases on some of the parcels.Nearly 20,000 acres of the 169,194 acres of federal sites up for grabs in the Bureau of Land Managements oil and gas lease sale today are on the undeveloped forest land.That land is among 4.1 million acres studied the past 10 months by a task force formed by the Legislature and governor. The panel recommended banning new roads on most of the land.Any activity proposed in roadless areas should be proposed without construction of roads, said task force member Steve Smith, assistant director of the Denver-based regional office of The Wilderness Society.But under individual forest management plans, roads would be allowed as part of mineral development on 8,900 of the total 14,400 acres of designated roadless areas up for lease in the White River and the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison national forests. The plans prohibit roads on the rest of the parcels. The White River National Forest surrounds Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.Roughly 5,500 acres of the roadless parcels offered for oil and gas development are in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, which extends into Utah.U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, whose district contains the three forests, have asked the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department to pull the 20,000 acres from the auction and wait until Colorado decides what it wants to do with the land. The Salazar brothers are both Democrats representing Colorado.Both gubernatorial candidates have weighed in, with Democrat Bill Ritter adding his request that the leases be put on hold until the task force and Gov. Bill Owens decide what to do, and Republican Bob Beauprez saying the process should move forward.Dave Tenny, deputy undersecretary of agriculture, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that a directive issued last year is similar to the Clinton-era rule in that it doesnt prohibit mineral leasing. He said the federal government would consider states requests to halt development while petitions are reviewed.Protests have been filed on the proposed leases. The BLM, in charge of managing all federal minerals, wont issue any leases until it issues decisions on the objections.The 4.1 million acres being considered by the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force was among 58.5 million acres nationwide declared off-limits to development in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The roadless rule, issued after 600 public hearings and 1.6 million comments, was challenged in court and replaced by the Bush administration last year when the land was potentially opened to logging, road-building and other activities.The Bush administration gave governors 18 months to request protection for the land. The requests go to a federal advisory committee and then to the agriculture secretary, who has the final say.Some of the areas designated as roadless in 2001 have trails and roads, but generally are prized for their pristine qualities and are considered important as wildlife habitat, watersheds, scenic and recreation areas.Sen. Salazar has said allowing the leasing to go forward in roadless areas violates a pledge made last year by Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture, to protect the sites pending development of state-level rules.