Conservation groups favor national version
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — At long last, a roadless rule for more than 4 million acres of National Forest land in Colorado may get some final shape this week, as state and federal officials announce what they’re calling the “next steps” for a state-based version of the rule.
The roadless rule, in its various incarnations, would essentially prohibit road building on almost 60 million acres of public national forest land across the country, based on its value for wildlife, water, buffers against invasive species. In first proposing the rule, former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck also talked about the almost overwhelming maintenance backlog on existing roads.
Read more Summit Voice coverage of the roadless saga here.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will unveil those next steps at a media event in Denver Wednesday (May 2), with the conservation community watching to see if the newest state version closes loopholes for water development, backcountry logging and energy extraction.
Colorado officials have said the state version is more protective than the 2001 national rule. In its most recent draft version, it subdivided roadless areas into tiers, with strict protection for lands deemed to have the highest conservation values. The Colorado version has been touted as giving land managers more flexibility for local needs, including wildfire mitigation.
Most recent discussions about the Colorado version have focused on specific technical aspects, including linear construction zones, gap leases, the quality and quantity of upper tier lands and the long-term status of roads built for water projects.
Publicly, the conservation community has been calling on Hickenlooper and President Obama to drop the Colorado version in favor of the national rule, which has been upheld in series of lawsuits.
The roadless rule has a long history, beginning with Forest Service inventories of roadless areas that served as a basis for potential wilderness designations. The so-called Roadless Area Review and Evaluation initiated in 1977 resulted in a recommendation of wilderness designation for 15 million acres.
More recently, former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck proposed a national roadless rule in 1998, finalized in 2001 and immediately revoked by the incoming Bush administration and challenged several different courts.
There’s also been legislation from both sides of the aisle pending in Congress that could affect National Forest roadless lands, with Republicans seeking to roll back any roadless protections, while Democrats have sought to codify the national roadless rule with a new law.
Colorado’s version was developed under a petition option that enables states to work with the Forest Service to develop a rule that meets local needs.