Recreation interests call for stronger roadless protection | SummitDaily.com

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Recreation interests call for stronger roadless protection

Summit Daily/Bob BerwynConservation advocates, including groups like Trout Unlimited, say a strict roadless rule is needed to protect environmental and recreational values in Colorado's national forests.

SUMMIT COUNTY – A national time-out on development in roadless areas won’t have any direct effect on national forest lands in Summit County, but local rangers will continue to evaluate wildfire projects on roadless lands on a case-by-case basis.

The temporary ban on road building doesn’t preclude approval of some projects if Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack deems them to be in the interest of forest stewardship. But proposals for new roads would be reviewed at the highest level of the Forest Service.

In Summit County, about 60,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas are currently managed under direction of the 2002 White River National Forest plan. District Ranger Jan Cutts said the plan’s roadless direction comes from the original 2001 national roadless rule established under President Clinton.

The plan essentially calls for maintaining the roadless characteristics of the inventoried parcels. The only exceptions are when the Forest Service looks at reducing wildfire risks near neighborhoods. If the work is considered essential to protecting property and lives, the agency can move ahead with a project under a streamlined review process that still includes public input, Cutts explained.

The Clinton administration’s roadless rule has been the subject of ongoing legal battles and administrative flip-flops. Officials appointed by President Bush overturned the rule as soon as they took office, replacing it with a state-by-state process. A federal judge in California reinstated the 2001 rule, while a different judge in Wyoming declared it in violation of federal environmental laws.

The fate of Summit’s roadless areas could ultimately be decided by a state version of the rule developed in a collaborative process by a wide range of stakeholders. State officials say their plan is an improvement to the 2001 rule, with updated mapping and more flexibility to address needed management in beetle-killed forests.

But various interest groups have been trying to pressure Gov. Bill Ritter to back off the state plan and adopt the 2001 version. On Monday, a coalition of outdoor recreation interests sent a letter to Ritter, asking him to incorporate several changes to the state rule.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials said Tuesday they wouldn’t comment on the letter.

The outdoor coalition includes the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the Access Fund, Outward Bound, American Whitewater, the Colorado Whitewater Association, and several outdoor-gear manufacturers.

They asked Ritter to make sure the Colorado rule “specifically and unambiguously” acknowledges the inherent value of roadless areas, and places the various development exceptions in a broader conservation framework.

The state rule should also address long-term management of temporary roads, prohibit construction of new powerline corridors in the backcountry and ban construction of new water projects in roadless areas.

Members of the outdoors industry and outdoors groups have been meeting with representatives from the state and U.S. Forest Service throughout the development of the Colorado roadless rule, which was initiated in 2007. Many in the outdoors community have raised concerns that the rule, as presently drafted, fails to adequately protect the backcountry and is in need of specific changes and clarifications.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.