Feds release Colorado roadless forest plan
DENVER ” Federal officials have released proposed rules for managing about 4 million acres of roadless national forest land in Colorado as part of a state-federal plan that has drawn criticism from environmental, hunting and angling groups.
The draft plan released Friday contains three options, including the plan written by a Colorado task force and submitted to the U.S. Forest Service. The public will have until Oct. 23rd to comment on the plan and eight public houses, starting Aug. 18, will be held across the state.
State officials say the Colorado roadless plan is an insurance policy because of ongoing legal battles over a 2001 rule issued in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The rule declared 58.5 million acres of roadless forest land nationwide off-limits to development but was thrown out in 2003 by a federal judge in Wyoming.
The Bush administration issued a new roadless rule in 2005 that opened some of the land to potential development and allowed states to petition to protect all or some of the areas. The Colorado Legislature and former Gov. Bill Owens appointed a task force to write a petition and roadless plan, which were submitted to the federal government.
Since then, a federal judge in San Francisco has overturned the Bush rule, reinstating the 2001 policy. Hunters, anglers and environmentalists have asked Gov. Bill Ritter, elected in 2006, to scuttle the state proposal because the Clinton-era rule would give the roadless areas more protection.
The Ritter administration, though, points to the ongoing legal challenges to the 2001 rule. The state of Wyoming revived its lawsuit against the Clinton-era policy and U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer, who overturned the policy in 2003, is presiding over the case.
“Collaboration among the state of Colorado, local communities and the U.S. Forest Service has resulted in a proposed roadless rule that provides the most effective way to manage and conserve National Forest System roadless areas in Colorado,” Mike King, Colorado Department of Natural Resources deputy director, said in a written statement.
Environmentalists say exceptions in the Colorado plan will threaten backcountry that’s important as wildlife habitat and watersheds. Temporary roads would be allowed for cutting trees to reduce wildfire risk and expansion of existing coal mining. Some land around ski areas would be removed from the roadless inventory.
A report released Wednesday by the Pew Environmental Group says at least 97 natural gas leases approved in roadless areas while the Bush rule was in effect could go forward if Colorado adopts its own plan rather than apply the Clinton-era roadbuilding ban already in place.
“The Bush administration is rushing this rule in an attempt to give away even more of our public lands to industry before it leaves office,” said Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A hearing is set at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, Tuesday in Washington.
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