Court ruling on 2001 version of roadless rule is due soon; for now, any proposed projects will get top-level scrutiny
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The long-running debate over management of National Forest roadless areas took another turn Friday as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he is extending a policy that requires top-level review of most proposals for projects in those areas. Emergency fire-fighting activities and small-diameter timber cutting are exempted under the interim objective, enabling rangers to improve endangered species habitat and to reduce the risk of wildfires.
“While the courts continue to wrestle with roadless policy, I will continue to work with the USDA Forest Service to ensure we protect roadless areas on our National Forests,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Renewing this interim directive reflects President Obama’s commitment to protecting our forests by ensuring that all projects in roadless areas receive a higher level of scrutiny.”
Federal courts have issued conflicting decisions in roadless cases the past few years. One judge upheld the 2001 Clinton roadless rule that started the ball rolling, while another court rejected the rule, saying that the Forest Service didn’t follow federal environmental laws. The Rule is currently under appeal in the 10th Circuit in Denver, with a decision expected soon.
The roadless rule affects about 4.2 million acres in Colorado and about 60,000 acres in Summit County. Complicating the picture, Colorado recently petitioned the U.S. Forest Service to adopt a state-based version of the rule that meets some, but not all, the objectives of the 2001 rule.