Colorado to pursue finalization of state-based roadless plan
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — After 10 years of litigation, the U.S. Forest Service will be to implement the 2001 national roadless rule, following a federal appeals court decision this week. Click here to read the court decision.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that the Forest Service did not — as claimed by Wyoming —violate federal environmental regulations when it promulgated the rule in the waning days of the Clinton Administration.
From the ruling:
“Wyoming failed to demonstrate that the Forest Service’s promulgation of the Roadless Rule violated the Wilderness Act, NEPA, MUSYA, or NFMA. Thus, the district court abused its discretion in permanently enjoining the Roadless Rule on a nationwide basis because the court’s action was based on the erroneous legal conclusion that Wyoming had succeeded on the merits of its claims.”
At issue is the management of about 5.8 million acres of public national forest land across the country. Under former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, the agency determined that a national roadless rule would best protect the wildlife habitat, water quality and recreational values of un-roaded areas.
The 2001 rule was adopted after a massive amount of public input. According to some sources, the agency received more than 2 million comments, with 95 percent in favor of the rule.
The Bush administration overturned the roadless rule and issued a new state-by-state petitioning process, enabling states to work with the Forest Service to develop specific rules for national forest lands within individual states.
Colorado recently completed a draft rule under that process, although the Forest Service has not formally adopted the Colorado version yet. Forest Service officials have said that, even if the 2001 rule is upheld, the Colorado version could still be implemented in the state under previously existing authorities for state-based rule-making and petitioning.
In a prepared statement, Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Mike King indicated that the state will continue to finalize the Colorado version:
“The Colorado Roadless Rule is based on the essential elements and structure of the 2001 Roadless Rule that the 10th Circuit Court has today reaffirmed. Starting in 2005, Colorado has been engaged in an extensive public involvement process to develop consensus on a rule that makes sense for the various needs and uses of our forests while also finding ways to provide strong protection of these lands.” King said.
“That process has benefitted from updated backcountry inventories for true roadless characteristics, the identification of high-value fish and wildlife habitat, and developing narrowly-tailored accommodation of activities critical to local economies that also includes wildfire protection for mountain communities. In addition, this ruling does not preclude further litigation, which could continue to create uncertainty. As a result, we will continue working to finalize the Colorado rule so we can provide clear and appropriate direction on the management and protection of national forest roadless areas in Colorado,” he concluded.
The Colorado-specific rule sets up a tiered system that is more protective of some areas than the national rule, but also leaves other areas vulnerable to development.
It’s not clear how this week’s court ruling may affect the Colorado version of the rule, especially with the potential for additional litigation.
Conservation groups have advocated for adoption of the national rule in part because it gives consistency to the management of federal lands across the country.
“Today’s decision is among the most significant conservation victories in several decades. It reinforces the roadless rule as the cornerstone of protection for our national forests and preserves these landscapes for generations to come,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s public lands program.
Filed under: Colorado, Environment, federal government, public lands, US Forest Service Tagged: | 2001 roadless rule, Court upholds 2001 roadless rule, Environment, national forest roadless rule, public lands, Summit County News, United States Forest Service