Outdoor industry, conservation groups call for broader protection, mining group says state version will save jobs
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — While state and federal officials tout the collaboration that went into developing a new rule for managing roadless areas on Colorado’s national forest lands, the fact is that they were never able to fully reach a consensus with all the stakeholders.
That leaves the rule potentially vulnerable to a legal challenge and also leaves the management agencies open to criticism from powerful stakeholders, including the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, representing more than 4,000 companies involved in making and selling outdoor gear.
The trade group is fully aligned with a broad coalition of conservation groups, which represent thousands of outdoor enthusiasts, and they’re all saying the same thing: Colorado’s cherished wild places deserve the highest level of protection, not the watered down guidelines in the state plan that potentially leave almost 3 million acres open to disturbance.
In a statement released in reaction to Wednesday’s roadless rule announcement, the Outdoor Industry Association came down firmly on the side of conservation groups, calling on the Obama administration to “extend upper tier protection to the excepted 3 million acres and make a statement in support of the roles backcountry and wild places play in daily lives and prosperity of the people of Colorado and all Americans.”
That strong language came in response to a state rule that, in some cases, panders to special interests, and in other cases tries to cut too fine a line by making subjective judgments on the quality of different roadless areas.
“Our nation’s public lands and roadless areas are the envy of the world, drawing Americans and international tourists who come to camp, fish, hunt, bike, climb, hike, paddle, ski and view wildlife, the trade group said in its statement. “These lands are the engine behind the $289 billion outdoor industry and 6.5 million jobs nationally.
“Outdoor recreation is a leading economic driver in Colorado, with active outdoor recreation alone supporting 107,000 jobs in communities — urban and rural — across the state and $500 million in annual state tax revenues.
“While the Colorado final revision delineates new ‘upper tier’ protections for 1.2 million acres, it leaves 3 million acres of the state’s roadless lands and waters subject to development and encroachment from utility corridors, energy development and mining.”
The mining industry, on the other hand, supports the state-specific rule.
“The Colorado rule is the right choice for Colorado,” said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, which was party to a lawsuit challenging the national rule. “Out of more than 4 million acres affected, the Colorado rule will allow for limited mineral development on about 19,000 acres of land essential to continued mining in Gunnison and Delta Counties, which account for more than 40 percent of the state’s coal production,” Sanderson said. “The more than 1,000 mine workers who stood to lose their jobs under a federal rule adopted more than eleven years ago thank the Forest Service for its decision.”
Sanderson claims the national rule would force an early shutdown of coal mining in Gunnison and Delta Counties,where mining accounts for almost $500 million in sales, and an additional $50 million annually in royalties and taxes that support public schools and governments.These mines also employ nearly 1,000 miners earning wages and benefits in excess of $100,000 annually, jobs that would be at risk if the mines close or curtail operations, he added.
Filed under: Colorado, Environment, Forest health, forests, public lands, White River National Forest Tagged: | Colorado, national forest roadless rule, Obama administration, Outdoor Industry Association, Roadless area conservation, United States Forest Service